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.
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.
After 15 cases and an extension of the Halifax lockdown Friday, COVID-19 practically went into hiding this weekend. After six cases yesterday, there are just four today. That compares with 11 recoveries. It's a good day for the humans!
"All new cases are in Central Zone," says the province's email update. "Three cases are under investigation. One case is related to travel outside Atlantic Canada and the person has been self-isolating as required."
Another statistic besides new cases and active cases is going down—that's daily testing. Tuesday the province reported Nova Scotia's all-time pandemic record of 4,138 tests in a day. Every day since then saw fewer tests, with today reaching 1,171. Hopefully the dropping case numbers aren't simply a function of doing less testing.
"I know things are looking better than they did even a few days ago and that is good news," top doc Strang said in the provincial email, "but COVID-19 is still here."
Every day for the last seven days, the number of new cases in Nova Scotia has been in double digits—just over 13 cases a day on average, for a total of 93 cases. But today that string is broken, as the provincial COVID-19 update is reporting just six new cases. Hoorah!
However, this great news is tempered by the fact two of the cases are in the Eastern health zone (think Cape Breton and Antigonish), where the last case was exactly seven weeks ago, Saturday, October 24. And it wasn't even a case to concern anyone except public health officials who deal with the technicalities of assigning ultimate ownership of pandemic statistics, because it was a local person who was living in some other province when diagnosed, tested and recovered.
Before that remote case, the last Eastern zone case was August 31, more than three months ago. Before THAT, Eastern had gone more than two months without a case, and that June 22 case got shuffled to Eastern from Central during a cleanup of the computer database. All to say, getting two actual cases in a single day is a big deal in the Eastern zone.
Making for an even bigger, crappier deal, the province can't blame the cases on travel. "Four of the new cases are in Central Zone and two cases are in Eastern Zone," says today's report. "All are under investigation." Halifax is locked down because it's the centre of the second wave's attention, but this week we've learned that no part of the province is out of danger.
Despite new cases staying relatively low, and active cases dropping steadily, today top doc Robert Strang announced that the restrictions he imposed on Halifax last week are being extended by one week. Where the lockdown was initially set to end at midnight next Wednesday, December 9, now it will stay in effect until Wednesday, December 16. And it can be extended longer.
To repeat: Gyms, restaurants, bars, churches, museums, sports leagues, the casino and libraries cannot open as anything like normal (although delivery, take-out and/or curbside service is allowed as applicable). Plus there are a host of gathering limits for shops, for people outside and for your house, among other restrictions. These lockdown rules are currently in effect until December 16 in parts of Halifax and Halifax County, as well as parts of Hants County (click the place names for the full specifics at the province's site).
In other news that the virus won't be as easy to crush as we'd hoped, at today's briefing with premier Stephen McNeil, Strang also announced a plan to get asymptomatic people all over the province tested for C19: people 16 to 34 years old without symptoms are "recommended" for testing, anyone over 16 without symptoms is "welcome" to take a test. Here are details, copied from the province's news release:
Asymptomatic testing is currently happening at the Zatzman Sportsplex in Dartmouth, the only site for asymptomatic testing in the Central Zone. No appointments are required. Asymptomatic testing will start in all other zones next week and information about how to get a test will be provided Monday.
Testing is recommended for people who:
— are 16 to 35 years old, even if they previously tested negative
— have attended an indoor social gathering without physical distancing in the last two weeks, especially if it was larger than the gathering limits in place for that community
— have a large number of regular social interactions with different groups without physical distancing
The number of tests that can be done is based on the need to prioritize testing of people who have symptoms and close contacts of known cases. Not everyone who comes forward for an asymptomatic test will necessarily get one.
In addition, pop-up sites will continue in different locations around the province. Anyone age 16 or older is welcome to get tested if they do not have symptoms and are not at higher risk of exposure, which means they:
— are not a close contact of a known case
— have not been at a location listed in an exposure notice that recommends testing
— have not traveled outside the Atlantic provinces within the past 14 days
People getting tested through this process are not required to self-isolate while waiting for their test or results.
New cases are up a bit from the 11 yesterday, but again, for the third day in a row, there are even more recoveries today: 15 new diagnoses, 19 patients recovered, for a total of 115 active cases in Nova Scotia. Despite these positive numbers, the COVID-19 report from the province has a cloud hanging over it as two more schools—one of them Halifax's huge Central High—have infections, and a third is getting closed pre-emptively.
"Eleven of the new cases are in Central Zone, including the case connected to Citadel High School, in Halifax, that was reported yesterday afternoon," says the province. "Three cases are in Northern Zone and are close contacts of previously reported cases." Speaking of three days in a row, the Northern zone has had a steadily creeping new-case count over the last three days—one new case Wednesday, two cases Thursday, three today—which bears paying attention to.
And just so we're clear, that is the Northern zone that includes Truro, Windsor and the New Brunswick border, rather than the zone that includes the most-northerly region of the province, Cape Breton, which the NS Health Authority calls the Eastern zone. There hasn't been a case in the Eastern zone since October 24, and that was only technically a case in public health record keeping, because the patient was the Nova Scotian who was in a different part of the country when they got infected, diagnosed and treated.
Back to the province's report. "The other case is in Western Zone and is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada." Ahhh, a comforting travel-related infection. Very welcome amidst the community transmission outbreak.
"There is also a new case, identified today, at Park West School, a primary to Grade 9 school in Central Zone," the report says. "The person was not in school today and is self-isolating. The school will remain closed to students until Thursday, Dec. 10. A deep cleaning will take place, and students will learn from home during the closure. As a precautionary measure, the offsite Park West pre-primary location will also be closed until Dec. 10. Students and families of both the school and pre-primary will receive an update Wednesday, December 9."
The province's intention to keep schools open through the second wave is admirable. Here's hoping it can continue with short, targeted closures as needed.
Today marks one full week for Halifax under the new lockdown restrictions. They came into effect at midnight on Thursday, November 26, and last until midnight next Wednesday, December 9. Unless they're extended.
Not a lot of information from the province about these 11 cases. "Nine of the new cases are in Central Zone. The other two cases are in Northern Zone," is all the latest COVID-19 update for Nova Scotia says. That must mean none are known to be travel-related, as we saw yesterday the province's still reporting that information. Which presumably means none of the new patients is known to be related to prior patients. Leaving us with 11 cases under investigation—that part goes without saying—but suspected of being yet more community spread.
Like yesterday, today's new cases are outweighed by the number of patients who recovered from their infections, 11 cases to 19 recoveries. Nova Scotia now has 119 active cases. This is a large number compared to a month ago (16 active cases November 3) or two months ago (three active cases October 3). But it's down nicely from the peak of 142 just two days ago.
At this rate, Halifax may well be on track to ending the lockdown on schedule next week, and being back to the old new normal of gyms, bars and whatnot being open. If we can indeed battle a second wave outbreak into submission, other places will want to study Nova Scotia's playbook.
More recoveries than cases
Apparently there's one good thing about having an outbreak among young, active people: they tend to smoothly recover from COVID-19. The province is reporting 17 new cases today, the most we've had in one day since the 37-case high last week, but the really big number is the 32 people who recovered since yesterday. And so far in the second wave, just one patient spent one night in the hospital.
"Sixteen of the new cases are in Central Zone, including the case connected to St. Margaret's Bay Elementary school that was reported last night," says the provincial report. "The other case is in Northern Zone and is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada."
Look at that! A regular old travel-related case in the Northern health zone. Except for Central zone getting more than a dozen new cases, including one in an elementary school, this would be a wonderful day in the pandemic. But make no mistake: It's not a wonderful day, and the continuing, albeit currently sporadic, incursion of C19 into schools is ominous.
The big new thing from today's briefing—at least judging by the press release from the province—is that Nova Scotia now has two mobile COVID-19 testing units up and running. Like coronavirus fire trucks, they're available to go where needed to quickly test into the population, in hopes of getting control of C19 spread at that place. Doctor Strang talked about getting mobile testing to Clayton Park when that outbreak was first detected, and to Wolfville after researchers found evidence of C19 in the town's sewage.
"Their first job is to support testing at Northeast Kings Education Centre in Canning, Kings. Co., in Western Zone. Public health is contacting people who should be tested and setting appointments for Dec. 2," says the press release. "No drop-ins will be accepted. The aim of testing in this school is to better understand transmission, given that there may be close contacts of previously identified cases at this school."
New month, old pandemic
The first day of December brings 10 new COVID-19 cases to Nova Scotia, continuing a horrible fall tradition of spreading disease. "All new cases are in Central Zone," said the report from the province without elaboration. Six patients who had C19 have recovered, but there are still currently 142 active cases, the highest number the province has reached during the second wave of infections. Provincial labs analyzed 4,138 tests yesterday, another record, up nearly 500 tests from the previous high set on the weekend.
Briefing this afternoon
That's right, The Steve & Strang Show is on! Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil and chief medical officer of health Robert Strang are giving a COVID-19 briefing starting at 3pm. You can watch live at novascotia.ca/stayinformed/webcast, or catch it later at the Nova Scotia government's YouTube page.
A case of mistaken case identity
At last, the province's official case map is back online after few days of technical issues. But that good news is marred by the province needing to correct yet another error, because it turns out last Friday—that day the briefing was suddenly pushed back two hours with no official explanation—there was a reporting problem.
"There was an error in the daily case release on Friday, Nov. 27, regarding the number of new cases of COVID-19," reads the note at the top of today's case update. "Eight new cases of COVID-19 should have been reported on Nov. 27, not nine."
We are not going back to change our Friday, Saturday and Sunday maps and reports to reflect the fact there was one more case than there should have been in the Central health zone. However, we spent a lot of time this afternoon double-checking our figures to make sure today's map is correct with the latest numbers.
"As of today, Nov. 30, Nova Scotia has 138 active cases of COVID-19. Sixteen new cases were identified Sunday, Nov. 29," says today's report. "Fifteen of the new cases are in Central Zone. The other is a school-based case and was reported last night, Nov. 29, and is connected to the Northeast Kings Education Centre in Canning, Kings. Co., in Western Zone."
Ahhh yes, that school-based case that might or might not have thrown off yesterday's case count is now present and accounted for.
There's another Friday throwback in today's update, as Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health Robert Strang mentioned Wolfville's sewage. (We think the Friday news that scientists found C19 in Wolfville waste water caused the briefing delay, as Strang was busy arranging more testing for the town, which was otherwise all quiet on the coronavirus front.) "We have increased our capacity for testing at the primary assessment centre in the area and have set up a pop-up rapid testing location for asymptomatic people in Wolfville today, Nov. 30," Strang said in the update.
Speaking of testing capacity, the Community YMCA (2269 Gottingen Street) has turned into a free rapid testing site today and tomorrow, 1-8pm. The Y's Facebook page says rapid testing's for people who do NOT have any C19 symptoms. If you have symptoms—the classic list that includes fever, breathing trouble, headache, sore throat, runny nose and/or coughing—you should do the online assessment (or call 811 if you can't get online).
Finally, the province released a new official photo of top doc Strang today. A link to the pic was emailed to media less than an hour after the C19 report. It's a lovely shot and all, as you can see, but it looks bad. The province has clearly been struggling to deal with the second wave. To this point, Nova Scotians have generally been forgiving and understanding of the errors that keep happening, because we're sure the outbreak is an awful lot to deal with, and we're sure government staff are doing their best to keep us all safe and informed. But when resources are obviously stretched, nobody should be spending time updating Strang's photo—and we're sure Strang himself would agree.
Maybe Strang will mention it at tomorrow's C19 briefing with premier Stephen McNeil. The briefing's scheduled for 3pm, but that time can always change. You can watch live at novascotia.ca/stayinformed/webcast, or catch it later at the Nova Scotia government's YouTube page.
Please bear with us
You know how it feels the pandemic is just A LOT right now? Even the government feels stressed, with the provincial COVID-19 stats site down, and new cases appearing randomly and official announcements suddenly having a lot of mistakes.
Well, this week in Coast world sees us in production to put out a print edition of The Coast on Thursday. It's the annual holiday planner, the last issue of 2020, featuring all kinds of ways to make the most of this most unusual holiday season. We're excited about it, and we hope it'll take your mind off the current lockdown when you pick it up.
But it means our tiny team is gonna be focused primarily on print for the next few days, so the web version of The Coast might suffer. We ask for your patience when we're slow responding to stuff online, or miss things completely. There's just, you know, a lot.
Thanks for your understanding and support. We hope this week goes alright for you.
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