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Monday, May 4, 2020

Just the news on COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, for the week starting May 4

The latest info, short and sweet, mostly from the province but also Halifax.

Posted By on Mon, May 4, 2020 at 3:37 PM

NOTE: This week is now over. For the very latest news, please go here. But for an informative look back at exactly how Nova Scotia responded to COVID-19 in realtime, keep on reading.

Click here for a smaller, mobile-friendly version of The Coast's Nova Scotia COVID-19 case graph.

Editor's note: The Coast has never aimed to be a just-the-facts news service. After all, there are lots of those and far-too-few media outlets that specialize in context, depth and engaging writing. But these are strange times, so we're experimenting with this news centre to be able to give quick-hit updates for our readers who want them. And for readers who don't, the rest of the site is bringing that beloved Coast approach to covering our beloved Halifax during the pandemic.

Sunday, May 9

Another nursing home is infected

Mother’s Day brings a mini-wave of C19 cases: seven new diagnoses, and after a couple days when only two nursing homes have had cases, a resident at a third long-term care facility has been diagnosed. Between the two COVID incursions, our number of active cases has risen slightly, from 221 on Saturday to 222 today, after 10 days in a row of dropping.

But no deaths are being reported by the province. That is positive no matter what.

“We are not out of the woods. This will be a many months-long process and we must remain vigilant," top doc Robert Strang said in the press release announcement. "Enjoy your weekend and Mother's Day while following our public health orders and recommendations.”

Saturday, May 9

The wave is not finished yet

At the top of this page, the graph of active cases shows the infection peak is over. You don't have to take Google Sheets' word for it, though. Doctor Strang concurs. “We are very much at the end of the first wave of COVID-19,” he said at yesterday’s briefing. “But we have to be careful.”

Indeed. Yesterday’s report from the province of a single new COVID diagnosis was great to hear, however it was just yesterday’s report. Today there are three new diagnoses, and another Northwood resident has died. As Strang also said: “The wave is not finished yet.”

Friday, May 8

Strang’s presentation on the new normal

Last Friday’s briefing included the news that chief medical officer of health Robert Strang was starting consultations with various stakeholder groups about opening Nova Scotia’s economy back up. This week, a CBC story on one of those consultation meetings said Strang was using a PowerPoint deck to explain the re-opening plan, a plan “slated to begin three weeks from now.” The premier’s office refused to share the slide deck with CBC reporter Jean Laroche, but Laroche got it “from another source,” most likely Zane Woodford.

At this Friday’s briefing, premier McNeil lashed out at the media: “Some seem to want to make COVID political, and discredit our chief medical officer who is helping us get through this unprecedented time. It's one thing to come after me as an elected official, but it's an entirely different story to misrepresent what doctor Strang was doing this week.”

In a display of transparency, Strang presented his presentation at the briefing. There’s a fair question to be asked if McNeil and Strang jumped to this decision, or were pushed. During the briefing Q&A session, CBC reporter Michael Gorman, asked it: “I'm wondering whether or not you would have released this document today, and doctor Strang would have made this presentation today, had the document from Wednesday's presentation not been leaked?”

“We can respectfully disagree,” said McNeil, who stressed that the document outlined publicly available guidance on how to reopen, not timelines for when to reopen. “The basis of this thing had been put out by the federal government on Monday.”

When Strang started his presentation, he took pains to say nothing has been finalized. “It’s important that people understand that no final decisions have been made in this at all,” he said.

“It is not the Nova Scotia plan. It is a national framework for reopening developed by Canada's chief medical officers of health. It's public health advice to provinces and territories. And again, I need to emphasize, it is not the Nova Scotia plan to reopen.”

If you’d like to read the document, officially titled “Planning for a new normal: Considerations for Nova Scotia,” here is the version released Friday by the province:

Schools stay shut, daycares might open

With weeks to go before the next deadline to decide whether or not to re-open schools, premier Stephen McNeil pulled a surprise move at Friday’s briefing, announcing that schools will stay shut. Distance education will continue to June 5. In another surprise, daycares may be opening Monday, June 8, Consultations on doing that safely and a final decision are coming. Here’s how he put it:

“I want to let parents, caregivers and teachers know your children will not be returning to the classroom this school year. That's everyone from P to nine, and secondary students. At-home learning, though, will continue to June 5, and that's when our school year will end.

“I want to thank teachers and parents and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union for their support, as we continue to find our way through this unprecedented time of delivering education. And as we work together on what the school year will look like next year.

“Teachers will continue to work until the end of June to finalize assessments and report cards. So another workbook is on its way. And that means your kitchen is a classroom for a little bit longer. And I'm hearing amazing reports about how well you are all doing. So hang in there, you only have a little bit longer.

“To the graduating class of 2020: This is a tough pill to swallow. This is not how you envisioned your Grade 12 year. But there will be a way to celebrate, and you will come out of this stronger, smarter and ready to take on any new challenge.

“To daycare operators: Our goal is to have you reopen for June 8. Doctor Strang will consult with you, as he does with everyone else, to help you understand the guidelines and protocols to reopen safely. A final decision will be made closer to June 8. I've asked [education and early childhood development] minister [Zach] Churchill and his team to work with daycare operators during this transition.”

Just one case

At the global level, Fridays are always bad news. The number of new COVID-19 cases consistently spikes up on Friday, for whatever reason(s) we can speculate about at another time, making for a sense of dread about the end of the week arriving. But right now in Nova Scotia it’s more like TGIF, because there is only one new C19 case.

Today’s numbers aren’t perfect. According to the province’s just-released update, two more Northwood residents have died. “All Nova Scotians continue to hold Northwood residents and staff in their thoughts,” said premier McNeil in the press release, speaking the truth. “I hope the families grieving today know their province is with them.”

However, one new case is remarkable.

Every day since C19 arrived in NS, there have been new cases, starting with three cases Sunday, March 15. That’s 55 days straight. And before today, there had been only one day when there was only one new case: March 20, in the disease’s first week here, coincidentally another Friday.

Nearly two months in, this feels like a break. Even as the death toll rises to 46 people in total, we have to consider today’s single case and the continuing drop in active cases—to 240—as good news.

Thursday, May 7

1,000 cases

The latest COVID-19 cases numbers are out, with a mixed bag of positive and negative results. Three more Nova Scotians have died from the disease, all of them Northwood residents, meaning 38 of the province’s 44 deaths have happened at the large nursing home. There have also been nine new cases of C19 diagnosed, a relatively high number of late.

But today also brings a surge in the number of patients who’ve recovered from COVID—47 people—and an accompanying steep drop in active cases.

Today’s nine new cases gives a cumulative total of 1,007. Because that 1,000-case mark feels significant, we put together an interactive timeline of the Nova Scotia’s path from last province in the country with C19, to being among the top five most-infected provinces. Get the timeline here.

No briefing today

Premier McNeil, doctor Strang and the rest of us get a day off from the regular provincial webcast COVID update. The Steve & Strang Show is scheduled to return tomorrow with a new episode, and you can always catch reruns at the Nova Scotia government's YouTube page.

Wednesday, May 4

Signs of appreciation

Because the first Wednesday in May is Interpreter Appreciation Day, premier McNeil gave a shout-out at today’s briefing to the only person who’s gotten more screen time than he and doctor Strang during the pandemic: "I want to take a minute to acknowledge Richard Martel who you see in the left hand corner of your screen. The person you don't see is Debbie Johnson-Powell." They work as a team like Strang and McNeil, although only Martell appears on camera.

click to enlarge COVID-19 briefing ASL interpreters Debbie Johnson-Powell and Richard Martell (in tartan from the @nsgov Facebook page, Martell during webcast on Interpreter Appreciation Day from YouTube).
  • COVID-19 briefing ASL interpreters Debbie Johnson-Powell and Richard Martell (in tartan from the @nsgov Facebook page, Martell during webcast on Interpreter Appreciation Day from YouTube).
“They are ASL interpreters extraordinaire. They have been with us now since starting these briefings, and they're very good at what they do. And on this, National Interpreter Appreciation Day, doctor Strang and I want Richard and Debbie to know how much we appreciate them, and how much we value the work and thank them for providing this service to our hearing-impaired community. We are very grateful to the both of you.”

A sunny forecast from the latest numbers

“This virus is still in our province, and we need to continue to be proactive and follow the protocols.” So said Stephen McNeil to start today’s regular webcast briefing. The premier’s message was clear—or at least it was clear if this is what you think his message was: Even though the bulk of Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 problems seem isolated to Northwood, letting our guard down now to throw the rest of the economy back into gear would be foolhardy.

That said, the new numbers do indeed look good. Seven cases diagnosed, compared to the April average of 27 per day. Nine people recovered, meaning the number of active cases dropped yet again (that’s seven days in a row), to 296. Nodody died, so our death toll stands at 41. Plus the changes to the long-term care facility stats (see below) give that whole scary situation a semblance of order.

Just remember, as the premier sorta kinda quoted Aristotle, one swallow does not make a summer.

Shaking up the statistics

Robert Strang spent a lot of time at yesterday’s briefing talking about how we arrived at Northwood, the province’s largest nursing home facility that is host to the province’s largest C19 outbreak. We are working on a report about what Strang said, but in the meantime the government press release with today’s stats on the coronavirus is also paying special attention to Northwood.

Up to this point, the statistics lumped all of Nova Scotia’s long-term care facilities together, and in the process made no distinction between the total cumulative number of diagnosed cases and cases that are currently active, i.e. total minus cured minus deaths. Yesterday, for example, “there were 11 licensed long-term care homes and unlicensed seniors' facilities in Nova Scotia with cases of COVID-19, involving 245 residents and 113 staff.” In forest fire terms, that sounds like 11 seniors’ homes are ablaze, each fighting an average of more than 30 cases.

Today the stats look at active cases only, and single out Northwood from other facilities: “There are three licensed long-term care homes and unlicensed seniors' facilities in Nova Scotia with active cases of COVID-19. Northwood in Halifax currently has 160 residents and 51 staff with active cases. Two other facilities each have one staff member with an active case of COVID-19.” Now instead of a province covered by wildfires, there’s one big fire in Halifax and a couple smouldering bushes—so insignificant it barely matters where they are.

Little has changed on the ground in the province, yet things suddenly seem more controlled. Is that a trick of the numbers, or the understanding that comes from context? The answer is a bit of both. The trick comes from suddenly receiving the information in this format; it feels like officials have deliberately kept the public in the dark until the big reveal. But the real magic is how more complete information and transparency has a way of providing a better explanation for what is going on.

New time for today’s briefing

The regular Wednesday COVID-19 briefing is at the totally irregular time of 2pm. As usual, you can watch live at novascotia.ca/stayinformed/webcast, or catch it later at the Nova Scotia government's YouTube page.

Tuesday, May 5

A trio of deaths at Northwood

The province announced that three more Northwood residents have died of COVID-19. "This is a wretched disease," premier McNeil said at today’s webcast briefing, "and I am sorry to the families for your loss."

Six new cases of C19 were also announced, which are more than offset by the 14 patients who recovered; the number of active cases dropped from 309 yesterday to 298 today.

However, the disease has been diagnosed at another long-term care facility, making 11 retirement homes where C19 has been found. Of the 41 people who have died from the virus so far in Nova Scotia, 39 were residents in long-term care.

Monday, May 4

No provincial briefing today

In case you’re feeling that itch, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to scratch. Premier Stephen McNeil and chief medical officer of health Robert Strang are on their new schedule of giving provincial COVID briefings only on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Fridays, unless something extraordinary happens. So until tomorrow, keep those hands washed, faces untouched and two-metre personal-space bubbles unpopped.

After a quiet weekend of COVID cases

Saturday’s announcement with the new case numbers was ridiculous, because there were just four. Four cases!? There hasn’t been a day that low since the very first week of Nova Scotia’s coronavirus journey in March.

Sunday by comparison had a lot of cases, with eight, although that’s still a small number. Every day except one in April, the number of new cases was in the double digits, and that day also had eight cases. This weekend definitely wasn’t painless, because eight people died of C19—all of them at the Northwood long-term care home. But at least the numbers on new cases were moving in the right direction.

So what news today? Another Northwood resident is dead, and there are 14 new cases. It’s a very Monday kind of Monday.

Nova Scotia has now had 985 COVID-19 cases diagnosed. Unless the numbers immediately drop below Saturday’s freakishly low level, the province will reach 1,000 cases this week, likely by Wednesday.

———


The collection of news updates from the April 27 week is here.

April 20 week is here.

April 13 week is here.

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