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COVID-19 news for the December 21 week 

Quick looks at cases and more, in Halifax and Nova Scotia.

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 for mobile-friendlier version of graph.

Editor's note: In its 28 years The Coast has never been a just-the-facts news service, but for these strange times here are quick-hit updates.


Sunday, December 27


 No rest for the wicked coronavirus

click to enlarge Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of December 27, 2020. Legend here. - THE COAST
  • Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of December 27, 2020. Legend here.
  • The Coast

Sundays are generally quiet. Sundays of a holiday weekend should be especially so. And yet here we are, oddly busy with three new cases of COVID-19. "All are linked to close contacts or travel outside of Atlantic Canada," says the province, which is some sort of consolation. No immediate threat of uncontrolled community spread is always consolation.


Friday & Saturday, December 25 & 26


 Two days reported as one

click to enlarge Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of December 25/26, 2020. Legend here. - THE COAST
  • Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of December 25/26, 2020. Legend here.
  • The Coast

The province took the Christmas holiday weekend off from daily COVID-19 updates. The numbers you see here and above have been filled in after the fact, when the province caught up from its vacation. But even so, Friday, December 25 and Saturday, December 26 were reported as a single day. We are honouring that convention, considering the two dates as a single data point in terms of Nova Scotia's streak of days in a row with cases.

So how many cases were there on this double day? "On Dec. 25 and 26 nine cases were reported: six in Central Zone, two in Northern Zone and one in Eastern Zone," said the province. "All are linked to close contacts or travel outside of Atlantic Canada."

The province didn't release any information about the number of patients who recovered from C19 over the weekend, and it didn't keep a running total of active cases. For that information you'll need to fast-forward to next week's news updates.


Thursday, December 24


 Last day before the break

click to enlarge Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of December 24, 2020. Legend here. - THE COAST
  • Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of December 24, 2020. Legend here.
  • The Coast

The province announced it's about to go on holiday break—there won't be daily COVID-19 reports from Friday through Sunday. Hopefully the disease will get the message, although with seven new cases it isn't particularly quiet today. "Six of the cases are in Central Zone and one is in Western Zone," says the province. "Two of the cases in Central Zone and the one in Western Zone are related to close contacts of previously reported cases. One case in Central Zone is related to travel and the other three cases in Central Zone are under investigation. One of the cases in Central Zone is in another province or territory. The person is a Nova Scotia resident and is included in our cumulative provincial data."


Wednesday, December 23


 How to count cross-country cases

click to enlarge Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of December 23, 2020. Legend here. - THE COAST
  • Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of December 23, 2020. Legend here.
  • The Coast

Among Nova Scotia's four new COVID-19 cases are some cases that aren't even in Nova Scotia. "Two of the cases being reported today are close contacts of previously reported cases in another province or territory," says the provincial C19 update. "The people are not in Nova Scotia, but since they are Nova Scotia residents, they are included in our cumulative provincial data."

The four cases are attributed to three health zones. The province isn't saying which of them are actually live cases here, and which only matter in an administrative sense. The details from the province don't help, either. Check it out:

"Two cases are in Central Zone," says the update. "One of the cases is a close contact of a previously reported case and the other case is under investigation." That previously reported case could be local, or it could be elsewhere in the country.

"One case is in Western Zone and is a close contact of a previously reported case," the update says, so that could be one that's not really here.

And finally, "One case is in Eastern Zone and is a close contact of a previously reported case. This case is not linked to the case reported in the Eskasoni First Nation community on Dec. 19." Being definitely unrelated to Eskasoni is information that renders that Eastern case definitely either Nova Scotian or national—nothing's definitive, except the one case in Central that is being investigated as possible community spread.

Speaking of Eskasoni, the province is also reporting that a pop-up testing site was set up there yesterday, which is also running today. "There were 130 tests completed and no positive tests identified," the province says. "There is no indication of community exposure or spread in Eskasoni at this time."

That's definitely good news.


Tuesday, December 22


 Cases on the move

click to enlarge Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of December 22, 2020. Legend here. - THE COAST
  • Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of December 22, 2020. Legend here.
  • The Coast

There's a lot of COVID-19 activity today, but none of it's particularly worrisome. First up, the province is announcing seven new cases. Coming after three days in a row with just two cases each, that's a high number. However, these cases are all predictable and under control, with no hint of community spread, so in terms of the second wave outbreak, it's a quiet day.

"Three of the new cases are in Central Zone and are related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada. The people are self-isolating, as required," says Nova Scotia's official C19 report. "The other four cases are in Northern Zone and are close contacts of previously reported cases."

The second sign of activity involves seven cases, too. But this time, it's about administrative details—seven cases got re-assigned from the Central health authority zone to the Northern zone. The net effect is that Northern jumped from having a cumulative total of 94 cases yesterday to 105 cases today, suddenly passing into the world of triple-digit numbers. Luckily it was due to an outbreak of paperwork, not coronavirus.


Monday, December 21


 A pair of cases and a mystery solved

click to enlarge Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of December 21, 2020. Legend here. - THE COAST
  • Map of COVID-19 cases reported in Nova Scotia as of December 21, 2020. Legend here.
  • The Coast

Updating the disappearing cases situation from earlier today, the province got back to us to say: "After a review of data, two positive cases were removed as they were not residents of Nova Scotia. The cases have been transferred to the home province/territory." So Nova Scotia did indeed lose two cases from its COVID-19 count, an official clarification you're getting here first.

And today, the province is reporting two new cases to make up for that loss. One new case is in Central Zone and the other case is in Western Zone," says the official C19 update. "Both cases are close contacts of previously reported cases."

Premier McNeil and chief medical officer of health Robert Strang are giving one of their webcast briefings today. It starts at 3pm. You can watch live at novascotia.ca/stayinformed/webcast, or catch it later at the Nova Scotia government's YouTube page.


 Mysterious missing cases

Something strange happened yesterday with Nova Scotia's case count. The province reported two new cases Sunday, one in each of the Central and Northern health zones, so the cumulative number of cases in Central should have risen from the Saturday total of 1,206 to the new mark of 1,207 on Sunday, as our map shows.

But that's not the way it went down. The province's official map had Central at 1,205 cases Sunday, instead of 1,207. And there was no explanation about why.

Sometimes cases get shifted around zones in the Panorama public health tracking system, but no other zone's total increased by two on Sunday to account for Central dropping by two. It's like a couple of the province's cases just disappeared without a trace.

click to enlarge Our map from yesterday (top) with the province's Saturday and Sunday maps. Central's case count is all over the place. - THE COAST
  • Our map from yesterday (top) with the province's Saturday and Sunday maps. Central's case count is all over the place.
  • The Coast

Coincidentally, New Brunswick's case count also dropped over the weekend, from 578 total cases during the pandemic on Saturday, to 574 on Sunday. Four whole cases vanished, and at this point you might begin to wonder if some mysterious new anti-virus is spreading across the east coast. However, as well as changing its numbers, New Brunswick put out a press release clearly explaining why its numbers changed.

That press release is an exemplary model of a province aiming to fulfill its obligation to keep its citizens both protected and fully informed during a public health crisis. Here's an extensive chunk:

Public Health is reporting no new cases today and is revising the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in New Brunswick.

Two previously reported cases in Zone 2 (Saint John region) had been accounted for in another province. Due to confidentiality, the province where the cases were previously recorded cannot be identified.

As well, two persons previously identified as cases, one in Zone 1 (Moncton region) and one in Zone 6 (Bathurst region), were removed from the confirmed cases of COVID-19 due to the identification of false positive results. The lab is currently working to determine the cause of these false positives. When Public Health evaluates the results of its tests, they consider the epidemiological links and case information to determine the likelihood for these to be positive. In certain rare situations, such as this one, the results were not in keeping with the patient information or the COVID-19 activity in the area, so the samples were retested. The people involved are being informed of their negative result.

The number of confirmed cases in New Brunswick now stands at 574 and 520 have recovered. There have been eight deaths. The number of active cases is 45. Three patients are hospitalized of which one is in intensive care. As of today, 145,988 tests have been conducted.

The updated number of cases will be reflected in the provincial COVID-19 dashboard, an online tool that allows New Brunswickers to see data related to the pandemic such as the number of coronavirus tests performed, the number of active cases and the number of hospitalizations. The dashboard is being populated using data provided by regional health authorities, the Department of Health and the Department of Public Safety. The coronavirus page on the GNB website also provides data for health zones, health-care facilities and points of entry for the province.
Note how New Brunswick addresses the statistical elephant in the room at the start of the release, bringing up the change without fear or obfuscation (the province "is revising the number of confirmed cases"). Then it explains what happened: Two of the four missing cases belonged on another province's tally, and two cases were false positives. These are understandable, acceptable reasons, and NB obviously trusts its citizens to understand and accept that mistakes can happen.

But New Brunswick also wants to show that it can correct its mistakes and learn from them, and it doesn't mind revealing this to the public. "The lab is currently working to determine the cause of these false positives," says the press release, before going on to explain more deeply, and then address the most human aspect of the mistakes: "The people involved are being informed of their negative result."

Communications Nova Scotia is Nova Scotia's department charged with relaying information from the province to its citizens. The people who work there are, in our experience, hard-working, skilled and diligent; not to fan the flames of our interprovincial rivalry, but they can certainly write press releases as well as their New Brunswickan counterparts. The difference, however, is in how the government chooses to communicate.

Nova Scotia's leadership defaults to privacy, secrecy, keeping its cards close to its chest. The government often treats its citizens as children, issuing paternalistic edicts, rather than as the government's owners. Judging from that one press release, New Brunswick understands that the government is responsible to the people. Judging by the way Nova Scotia has responded to the coronavirus crisis, it typically thinks the people are pests.

Thus Communications Nova Scotia has to produce press releases with limited information. Here's the bulk of Sunday's update, the day when, don't forget, two cases vanished:

As of today, Dec. 20, Nova Scotia has 41 active cases of COVID-19. Two new cases are being reported today.

One new case is in Northern Zone and is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada. The person is self-isolating, as required. The other is in Central Zone and is still under investigation.

"It is encouraging to see low case numbers as we start a new phase of guidelines and restrictions tomorrow," said Premier Stephen McNeil. "We can do our part to contain the virus by following these protocols that are designed to keep our social gatherings small and our communities safe."

New restrictions come into effect at 12:00 a.m. Dec. 21. Most of them apply provincewide. In areas of Halifax Regional Municipality and Hants County, restaurants, licensed establishments and the Halifax casino remain closed until Jan. 10. The complete list of restrictions is available at https://novascotia.ca/coronavirus/restriction-updates/.

Nova Scotia Health Authority's labs completed 1,409 Nova Scotia tests on Dec. 19.

Since Oct. 1, Nova Scotia has completed 98,238 tests. There have been 356 positive COVID-19 cases and no deaths. No one is currently in hospital. Cases range in age from under 10 to over 70. Three hundred and 15 cases are now resolved. Cumulative cases may change as data is updated in Panorama.
To note: There's no mention of the two missing cases, so we are left wondering if the province is too incompetent to notice, or just too contemptuous of the public to bother mentioning. Premier Stephen McNeil's attaboy quote is treated with importance, coming near the top of the update. There's no handy statement of how many cases the province has seen, a potentially useful check on the strangely missing infactions, but there are some statistics counting from October 1 (which might be when the province decided the second wave started and therefore it was in the public interest to reset the numbers, although you wouldn't know it from this press release).

We've asked the province what's up with the two missing cases. We'll let you know what we hear back.


 Nova Scotia is under new restrictions

At the stroke of midnight, the latest restriction regime took effect in Nova Scotia, morphing the ongoing Halifax lockdown somewhat and expanding some limits to the entire province. It's pretty confusing. The province lists restrictions on its COVID-19 site doesn't do a great job of explaining, but we're not leaving you alone with a boring list: This is our story about the restrictions, and it will treat you right.


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