Doctor Robert Strang laid out significant changes in Nova Scotia’s COVID management plant during today's COVID briefing. This shift comes with scaled back contact tracing, reduced testing and plans to end daily case number reporting.
“Omicron is forcing us to do things differently, it’s a different variant that requires a different response," Strang said during Thursday’s virtual COVID briefing alongside premier Tim Houston.
"We no longer need to identify and have public health manage every single case of the variant, because for most people it will result in relatively mild illness."
The chief medical officer of health said the province will change its pandemic protocol to deal with public health pressures and the “finite resources in the hospital system.” This will mean redirecting medical personnel from COVID testing sites to booster dose clinics and limiting contact tracing to high-risk situations.
Instead of relying on public health and going through a contact tracing process, which typically involves multiple phone calls with a public health nurse, the new plan relies on personal accountability when people test positive for COVID.
An individual with COVID is expected to retrace their steps, identify all potential contacts up to two days before first presenting with symptoms, and inform all contacts of their positive COVID test result.
“I still believe in the goodness of people and that they care about their community, they care about their colleagues, they care about their friends and neighbours," Houston said. "When they find out they have COVID, they’ll let them know if they were in contact with them.”
Contact tracing will be reserved for those deemed high-risk, and as announced on Tuesday, will not happen in schools going forward. Nova Scotia Health announced today due to the surge in cases it will also no longer be able to provide people with COVID-19 recovery letters. Instead, people must self-assess using a list of recovery criteria.
Strang said he is also pushing for ending daily COVID case reporting, but he’s hoping to do so at the same time as other provinces. “We’ve been talking about (ending daily case counts) for a while, and we’d like to do it in coordination with other provinces,” he said. “I’ll be raising this on my national call today and I’ll be talking about it with the other Atlantic provinces.”
The chief medical officer said his team will be watching COVID case numbers over a longer period of time, as well as hospitalization and ICU numbers. “Those are far more important than the daily case count now in the Omicron wave,” Strang said. As of December 30, there are 25 people hospitalized with COVID and three in intensive care.
“I know this shift is hard and not everyone will support it, for some it’s too far and for some it’s not far enough," he said. "I ask that you keep trusting the team that’s led you through this so far.”
Beyond the strategy shift, there are no changes to public health restrictions. Nova Scotians are asked to limit their social circle to a consistent group of 10.
Beginning next week, booster doses of mRNA COVID vaccines will be made available to all Nova Scotians over 30 who received their most recent vaccination more than six months ago. The province has secured significant supply from the federal government, the premier said, and a couple hundred thousand appointment slots will open on Monday for January. These vaccines will largely be administered in pharmacies, and a new community clinic for boosters will be established at the Halifax Forum beginning Jan 6.
To date, about 55 percent of eligible children have been vaccinated or are scheduled for a shot. This misses the province’s 80 percent of children vaccinated by Christmas target.
“We’re looking at that,” Strang said. “Certainly as we increase capacity for boosters it will also increase capacity for (vaccinating) children.” The chief medical officer added his team will plan for targeted outreach if needed.