Halting out-of-province travel for sports and arts events for kids under 11 is needed to prevent the spread of COVID among children until they become vaccinated, Robert Strang said Wednesday.
Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health spoke in a teleconference with media that was called at the last minute, following the province’s sudden announcement that kids under the age of 11 cannot leave Nova Scotia to participate in a tournament, competition or performance until at least early January. Doctor Strang said he doesn’t know how many events this new policy, effective immediately, will impact.
“We’re seeing a fair amount of exposure and cases related to sports and other community-based activities. Some of these are related to tournaments and other events in neighbouring provinces,” Strang said. He does not have an estimate how many cases or how many instances of exposure have been tied to these events.
Nova Scotia reported 35 new cases of COVID today and 61 new cases Tuesday. Strang says much of this activity is being driven by cases among children under 12 in the Halifax and surrounding areas, and a cluster in the Northern zone among a “defined, under-immunized community” which so far hasn’t caused spread beyond the region.
The spread among kids under 12 began in central Halifax “in the last week or so” and has since moved into suburban and rural parts of Halifax Regional Municipality, Strang said, and up towards the East Hants corridor. There’s now a new cluster of cases in children identified in Truro.
The spread of COVID among kids has happened throughout the fourth wave, Strang said, since the delta variant became the primary COVID strain in Nova Scotia.
“It’s the highly infectious delta variant that spreads very easily in a group that is not yet able to get vaccinated,” he said. “So that points out that today is a milestone day.”
For the first time in the pandemic, today Nova Scotian children under the age of 12 were able to be vaccinated against COVID-19. On this first day of vaccinations, about 460 were administered to kids at community pharmacies and at the IWK in Halifax. These vaccine clinics launched a day earlier than the Dec 2 start date announced by the province last week; tomorrow on that Dec 2 date, more pharmacies will be opening clinics for children. Currently there are 25,000 paediatric vaccine appointments booked for kids across the province, with about 65,000 kids eligible for vaccination.
“Starting to get the five-to-11-year-olds vaccinated will have a real impact on our step in controlling and minimizing the spread of the virus,” Strang said.
The omicron variant
The arrival of the newly identified omicron COVID-19 variant in Nova Scotia is inevitable, Strang said, and the province’s health team is looking out for it.
“It’s a matter of not if but when we see this variant here in Nova Scotia, but anyone who tests positive now for COVID in NS will have that screening applied,” Strang said. The province can locally screen COVID test results for the omicron variant type, but a definitive result would have to come from the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.
The province is aware of “a handful” of people who were identified as having recently travelled to one of the 10 countries on the federal government’s restricted travel list, and those individuals have been contacted by local public health for testing. Strang said at this time he’s not aware of any positive results among this group.
The chief medical officer said it’s important to remember that new variants are expected, and currently “there’s no evidence that omicron is more transmissible, or creates more severe illness or is not well-covered by the vaccine,” Strang said. “We’ll understand those questions in the coming weeks and adjust our response as necessary.”