Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, held a Zoom briefing Thursday afternoon, April 7. It was originally supposed to be for media only, as a note from the province yesterday morning at 8:40 reiterated. But within three hours another email came from the province to say now the session would be livestreamed to all.
Although the province didn't say anything about why it changed its mind, popular pressure must have been a factor. Sure enough thousands of Nova Scotians tuned into the Youtube broadcast, the first time in months Doctor Strang appeared without premier Tim Houston by his side.
“There certainly has been a lot of talk in the last few days about what we aren’t doing, should be doing, perhaps, in response to the current COVID situation,” Strang began, likely in response to the critiques of the video released the previous day by the provincial government encouraging Nova Scotians to “get back out there.” Putting his personal credibility on the line, he continued, “I believe I’ve always been honest with Nova Scotians and I will continue to do so.”
In the two weeks since most COVID restrictions (save for masking in public schools and medical settings) ended, case counts and hospitalizations have been on the rise. Today’s release of data says 6,991 Nova Scotians tested positive on PCR tests in the last week, eight people died and 61 people were hospitalized.
That rate of infections, an average of 999 new cases per day, is the highest Nova Scotia has ever reported during the pandemic. The number of deaths is down from last week’s report, and hospitalizations are up from last week but still below what the province experienced in February. However, by the measure of new cases diagnosed every week, things have never been worse here.
But Strang and his briefing co-host, deputy chief medical officer of health Dr. Shelley Deeks, both say we are in the “transition” phase of learning to live with COVID, and that the public would become less compliant if mandates continued.
“There’s always going to be some people that feel we’re going too fast and want to hang on to measures we’ve used for the past two years,” Strang said. But “there’s other people that feel we’ve hung on too long.”
If the province feels stuck between these groups, under current premier Tim Houston its solution is apparently to divest itself of pandemic responsibilities. Strang said it’s “time to shift the control of COVID back towards individuals and families.” This is quite different from messaging earlier in the pandemic, under other premiers, that Nova Scotians should keep an eye out for the most vulnerable in their communities and protect each other.
Deeks explained why weekly reports make more sense in this new phase of living with COVID. “We all know that there is a lot of virus out there and we don’t need daily numbers to tell us that,” she said. “Now, we’re looking at severe outcomes like hospitalizations and death.”
Strang said removing mandates is in line with public health policies across the country, but when asked if he still recommended masking, he emphasized that in places where masking used to be mandatory “we strongly recommend that people continue to wear those masks.” But, he said, “the policy decision on that is up to others,” followed by a long, Jim-from-The-Office-esque look into the camera. (Blink three times if you need help, doctor.)