With 522 new cases reported Tuesday, Nova Scotia is further tightening public health restrictions, just days after the last round of restrictions came into effect. Gathering limits will drop from 20 to 10, restaurants and bars must stop dine-in service at 11pm, and live events, sports and performances are paused.
“I’m not going to get it right every time, and perhaps in retrospect we didn’t get things quite right last week,” chief medical officer of health Robert Strang said during Tuesday’s virtual COVID briefing.
On Dec 14, the province announced a first round of restrictions amid Nova Scotia’s omicron wave, which came into effect Dec 17. These restrictions dropped gathering limits from 25 to 20 and restricted capacity at businesses to 50 percent. The even tighter restrictions, announced Dec 21, will come into effect at 6am tomorrow, Wednesday Dec 22.
“The restrictions we announced last Tuesday just don’t won’t be enough to protect our health care system and those most vulnerable,” Doctor Strang said.
Nova Scotia has identified nearly 2,600 new cases of COVID since Dec 15. There have been back-to-back record high daily new case counts for several days. Of the most recent batch of new COVID cases sent to be analyzed at the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg, Strang says 83 percent were confirmed to be the omicron variant, and omicron is now the dominant virus strain in Nova Scotia.
Because of the pressure on Nova Scotia’s lab, overworked test clinic staff and a limited supply of rapid tests, the province’s widespread COVID testing program will be scaled back, beginning Dec 27. Nova Scotia has been recognized nationally and internationally for its COVID testing availability.
Beginning next week, PCR tests will be reserved for those who are “integral to keeping the health system running,” and those who are in congregate living settings who are symptomatic or are close contacts of positive cases.
“For everyone else, even those with symptoms, who are not in the above groups, you will need to start using rapid tests,” Strang said. The province is also ending its policy of requiring a PCR test to confirm a positive rapid test result.
Rapid tests will no longer be made available through public libraries, and the workplace rapid testing program will end for “low-risk” workplaces. “These changes do not come easily,” Strang said.
Border restrictions are still not a focus for the province, premier Tim Houston and Strang said, given that omicron is already active within Nova Scotia. Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island have implemented five-day and four-day isolation policies, respectively, for vaccinated residents and travellers.
“We have a lot of COVID around us, that’s certainly not a great feeling but it’s a reality,” Houston said. "The border measures tend to be effective when you’re trying to keep COVID out."
But Strang said just because there are no border policies doesn't mean people should travel freely.
“I hope Nova Scotians can understand that when we’re saying slow down, limit your social contacts, that clearly means be thoughtful and careful about the type of travel you’re doing,” Strang said. "Just slow down and stay close to home."
Houston said he recently had to make the tough call to his own mother to cancel Christmas dinner plans.
Boosters and outbreaks
Beginning Wednesday, Nova Scotians who are older than 50 and had their second dose more than six months ago will become eligible for a booster dose of COVID vaccine. The province is sticking with the National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s recommendations, despite other provinces dropping booster availability to anyone 18 and up.
The province is reporting an outbreak at the Halifax Infirmary site of the QEII Health Sciences Centre, with fewer than five patients affected. There’s also an outbreak of fewer than five people at St. Martha's Regional Hospital in Antigonish.
There’s a new long-term care outbreak at Ocean View Continuing Care Centre in Eastern Passage. Three staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. All staff and 97 percent of residents are fully vaccinated, and eighty-six percent of eligible residents have had a booster shot.
There are no new cases reported at Parkstone Enhanced Care in Halifax. A total of one resident and one staff member at the facility have tested positive for COVID-19.
On December 20, NSH labs completed 10,201 tests, which resulted in 522 positive cases. Of these 382 are in the Central zone, 59 are in the Eastern zone, 38 are in the Northern zone and 43 are in the Western zone. There are currently 10 people in hospital with COVID, three of them in intensive care.