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.
A lot going on for a supposed day of rest
The first COVID-19 update arrived at 1:20pm, with the province reporting 10 new cases—nine in the Central health zone, one in the Western. Standard stuff of late, nothing out of the ordinary. Then a correction email came at 3:05pm: Still 10 cases, but now they're all in the Central zone.
Communications Nova Scotia uses classic techniques in its press releases and media announcements. One of these is putting the number 30 at the bottom of the release—a convention from the telegraph era, apparently, that indicates the end of the transmission. Similarly, when an announcement goes out to correct something that was said in an earlier announcement, the word "correction" does not appear in the email subject line; the letters CXN are used instead. This has retro appeal as some kind of teletype shorthand, and also makes it easy to do a quick search our email archive to see how often the province issues CXNs.
Not very often, it turns out. There was one in early July, in a press release about provincial campgrounds opening after the lockdown: The first release said online campsite booking started Friday, July 10, but it should have said Monday, July 6. After that, there wasn't a correction until late October—tourism is slated to generate $900 million, not $900 thousand, for the province's economy in 2020, although either way it's down from nearly $2.7 billion in 2019.
And then the C19 second wave arrived in November, with accompanying urgency to track and contain the disease, and inform and instruct the public. Today's CXN is the sixth this month.
We are not saying there should be no corrections. Journalists know better than most that mistakes happen despite the best intentions and processes, and the ability to correct the record is vital to an enterprising press. All the CXNs are fundamentally mundane, even if each in its time provides a few minutes or hours of frustration and embarrassment to a provincial communications professional. We are pointing out the steep increase in corrections from the province as proof November is a hard month for everyone, with the pandemic's surge putting all kinds of stresses on the government, stresses that are happening mostly out of sight of the public eye.
We're also mentioning it to prepare you, dear reader, for the third email we received today about case numbers.
It arrived at 5:56pm, nearly three hours after the CXN about there being no cases in the Western health zone. Its subject? A case in the Western zone. "Nova Scotia is reporting one additional case of COVID-19 identified today, connected to the Northeast Kings Education Centre in Canning, Kings. Co., in Western Zone," said the release. "Given the school has been closed"—since a first case was diagnosed there earlier in the week—"this case is not believed to have been in school while infectious."
So it looks like the first announcement was kinda correct after all (one case in the Western zone), as was the second (10 cases in Central). We think labs have found at least 11 cases since Saturday's report, although none of the three press releases uses that number, and and we can't check the province's case information page because, the province tells us in two releases, "Due to technical difficulties, the website will not be updated today."
Did we mention the stress the second wave is putting on the province?
There's some difference of opinion in media on how to report these numbers. CTV Atlantic says 11 cases, while CBC Nova Scotia is using 10 cases. CTV National went with adding 10 Nova Scotian cases to its excellent map of infections across Canada.
The province has announced cases in schools this way before—alerting media at night, after the day's new case count was announced—and it adds the cases to the official tally the next day. So we are going with 10 cases on our map, because that's what the province's map would show, if it wasn't suffering technical difficulties. We're confident the Northeast Kings case will get officially counted tomorrow. Until then, our map sends thoughts and prayers to the provincial map.
Can COVID-19 infect computers?
It's one thing when the province's daily C19 report arrives later than usual on a weekday. But for the email to go out to media at 4:40pm on the weekend? Somebody's burning the midnight oil. And it might be the IT department.
"Due to technical difficulties, the website will not be updated today," is the very unusual note at the top of the report, referring to the province's main C19 data page, which hasn't been updated since Thursday, back when there were just 114 active cases in Nova Scotia. Ahhh, the good old days.
The Saturday report bring 14 news cases, in the same distribution pattern as Tuesday and Thursday—12 cases in the Central health zone, and one each in the Northern and Western zones. There are now 125 active cases, the most the province has had since May 11, or 202 days ago. Nobody is in the hospital due to C19.
For the third day in a row, provincial testing labs set a new record for number of tests processed, with 3,644. If you'd like to join the fun, first step is the online self-assessment, which is always available. Unless C19 or some other bug causes the system to crash.
A mysterious delay
Not gonna lie—we were worried about today.
For starters, Nova Scotia's COVID-19 outbreak is bad enough that yesterday the province shut much of Halifax down for at least two weeks; people are getting tested in record numbers; and public health czar Strang has been warning us to expect high case numbers because C19 is a "stealth agent" that had a chance to spread unnoticed before anyone realized an outbreak's on. So when we got an email from the province this morning, letting us know Strang and premier McNeil were giving a briefing at 1pm, we figured there would be a lot of new cases.
Then, less than an hour before the briefing was supposed to begin, another email arrived from the province, pushing off the start time for two hours. That's when the dread started to build. A late-breaking delay smacks of some crisis popping up that Strang and McNeil have to contend with, like shockingly high case numbers, a major C19 cluster in another part of the province, infections in long-term care. Or all of the above. Maybe they suddenly had to consider stricter restrictions for Halifax, or Halifax-like limits for the whole province.
But in the event, there was very little drama. The Central health zone—which includes Halifax—has nine new cases, down from the recent string of days of double-digit numbers. And that's despite Nova Scotia's labs getting through 3,109 tests, a new high that dwarfs the previous record of 2,253 tests in one day, set just yesterday. (From May to the start of November, the average was about 600 tests per day.)
Nobody with C19 has a case bad enough to put them in the hospital. And four people have recovered since yesterday.
One of Friday's cases was at Bedford South School, a school for pre-primary to Grade 4, and it's been shut down to allow for cleaning and contact tracing until at least next Wednesday. But cases in schools are, unfortunately, precedented. As scary as Bedford South's situation is for its community, Strang and McNeil have been down that road before. Although McNeil started the briefing talking about the school, this case couldn't have been the thing that delayed the briefing's start.
McNeil moved from BSS to long-term care, but only with good news: "Today we are starting a testing strategy in three of our long-term care homes." Then he pivoted to an annoyance, "people reading too much into social media threads about cases of COVID that do not exist."
It's easy to rule out both of those items as the cause of the briefing delay. Positive, pre-emptive moves to protect nursing homes don't require a team of communications professionals to spend two critical hours figuring out how best to break it to the public. And no matter how seriously his staff took the threat of social media misinformation, McNeil would surely brush it off, saying something like "I'll just tell people to pay attention to facts." And sure enough, that's what he said at the briefing: "We have to be mindful of the facts."
Did heavy new restrictions come down? "At this time," said Strang, "I want to emphasize we do not have any plans for further restrictions."
There was some talk of vaccines, prompted by the federal government saying yesterday that, as Strang put it, "they were anticipating that we would be able to begin vaccinating Canadians early in 2021." But tamping down excitement about a medical breakthrough comes as easy to Strang as dismissing social media does for McNeil. "As we get more certainty from the federal level, and develop in more detail our vaccine program plans, we will bring them here and make sure all Nova Scotians are aware of those."
The most likely explanation for the delay is toilets in Wolfville.
"Earlier today," Strang said, "the town of Wolfville announced that researchers from Acadia, Dalhousie and LuminUltra Technologies had detected COVID-19 in the town's wastewater." The sewage testing in an experimental virus-detection technique that suggests Wolfvillians are silently spreading the disease, if the experiment is working as the researcher intend.
Strang didn't make a big deal of it at the briefing. He didn't complain that this announcement caused a lot of scrambling and, yes, an unexpected delay to the briefing's start time. He didn't moan about needing to put out yet another fire during a week of conflagration. He just mentioned that in response to this new thing today, the province had already increased capacity at Wolfville's main C19 assessment centre. "I want to recognize the rapid work by the Nova Scotia Health Authority to do that," was his only tell, hinting at some amount of scramble.
Otherwise it was a quiet briefing, for a province trying to keeps things quiet as its capital city hunkers down for a viral siege. Strang offered some suggestions for making the best of it. "Do some online shopping or shop locally," he said. "Now is the time to support local Nova Scotia businesses, whether it's by shopping locally or online."
He also encouraged people to get some sleep on the weekend, to eat good food, read a book, support the economy. The premier, who's had a long week of his own, said he liked the idea of sleep.
Zombie minks and closed borders
Meanwhile, as Halifax settles into its newly locked-down status, the world beyond Nova Scotia is going to hell. New Brunswick premier Blaine Higgs decided to spend time today shredding the pieces of the Atlantic bubble left behind when PEI and Newfoundland popped it on Tuesday. As of midnight, Higgs announced this afternoon at a COVID-19 briefing, all travellers to New Brunswick have to quarantine for two weeks, including people from the other east coast provinces.
Higgs was really trying to slam the door on Nova Scotia, after PEI and Nfld slammed it on his ass. But he must not have noticed that NS top doc Robert Strang beat him to the punch, because Strang already told Nova Scotians not to leave.
And why would we want to go? Zombie minks infected with a mutant strain of C19 are apparently a thing now. The minks are in Denmark. As long as we don't let their boats dock in Nova Scotia, the only way in is through New Brunswick. Premier Higgs, you can have them.
Two weeks of infections
It's the 14th day in a row that Nova Scotia has reported at least one new case of COVID-19. And by coincidence, there are 14 new cases today. That makes 123 total cases in the last two weeks, more than eight per day on average. As a comparison, in the two weeks before these last two weeks, there were 14 cases, just one per day. (There are also 114 active cases, making 14 a very special number today. Calls are out to the Illuminati to find out what's up.)
"Twelve of the new cases are in Central Zone," said the provincial report. "One case is in Northern Zone and the other case is in Western Zone." Like yesterday, details about what cases are related to previous infections and how many are under investigation are not included, and they are superfluous at this point in the active outbreak.
Although the virus is having a good time of things right now, today did bring some good news for the humans. The person who went into the hospital yesterday is out, two people recovered from the disease and we set another record for testing, with the labs completing 2,253 tests yesterday.
Today is, of course, when the province's new restrictions came into effect for Halifax. If you've been living under a rock, stay there—you're safe from C19, and the bars are closed in the city anyway. But you might like to read about the current rules.
The Nova Scotia Health Authority and the IWK children's hospital (officially called IWK Health) put out a video today about the "swish and gargle" test for kids. Now that so much is shut down, you probably have two minutes to spare to watch it. Enjoy.
Cases slow down, sort of
Compared to yesterday's 37 cases, today's 16 new COVID-19 cases seems low. But that is an optical illusion, or whatever the statistics version of an optical illusion is. Sixteen cases is a lot. Before yesterday, Nova Scotia hadn't had a number that high since April 29, a waning but still-active point in the first wave.
"All new cases are in the Central Zone," is all the the provincial C19 update said about the cases, not getting into the usual details about how many patients have connections to other patients or the number of cases being investigated. We get it—things are hectic right now, what with locking down the city at the heart of this outbreak and performing a record number of C19 tests yesterday (1,621).
The provincial report also says one patient is now in hospital, although the official case data site is still showing zero hospitalizations. Again, no biggie. Except to that person, if they really are in the hospital.
The program to take speedy testing to the people continues. "There were 604 tests administered at the rapid-testing pop-up site in downtown Halifax yesterday and one positive result. The individual was directed to self-isolate and has been referred for a standard test," said the report, which arrived unusually late today—4:48pm, when the work day is over for lots of civil servants. Yet again, totally understandable. Nova Scotia is way past the "check out our virus-free paradise" stage of the pandemic, and suddenly hip deep in the "we don't know what you other provinces have been doing about the second wave rising around you, but we're digging in to fight this thing" stage. If that means government workers staying late, it's inspiring to see them doing their part.
If you're getting a runny nose or sore throat that has you wondering, or if there's any reason to think you might have been exposed to C19, or if you just want to have a website ask questions about your health, head to Nova Scotia's self-assessment tool. Taking symptoms seriously is one way you can do your part, and the site is standing by for you 24 hours a day.
UPDATE: In one of those watched-pot-never-boils situations, right after we posted about today's cases, the province's site caught up to the province's report, and added one person in hospital to the site. So it turns out they do exist, and we wish them well.
A second wave of information
The full-blown return of COVID-19 brings with it a tidal wave of information from the province. We're keeping up as best we can in The Coast's canoe, aiming to keep you informed without anybody getting swamped. To give you a sense of where things stand right now, today's case number aren't out yet, but you'll hear about them when we do. To help understand yesterday's big briefing about the Halifax shutdown that starts tomorrow, we've got this story with all the specifics plus some analysis of what doctor Strang and premier McNeil are trying to do with quick, targeted action. Finally, we are working to catch up on all the notices of potential C19 exposure coming from the NS Health Authority—in the meantime, though, if you're even the least bit worried you should do the province's self-assessment and find out if a coronavirus test is right for you.
There are 37 new cases today, and a host of new restrictions coming into effect Thursday. "Thirty-five of the new cases are in Central Zone, and a case in Northern Zone is connected to exposures in Central Zone," said the provincial announcement. "There is also a case, identified today, at Northeast Kings Education Centre in Canning, Kings. Co., in Western Zone."
Strang and McNeil are still giving their briefing. More details on the closures are in this story. There's too much to summarize easily here, going beyond the expected closure of bars, restos and gyms to include a two-week shutdown of libraries, museums, churches, sports and travel in and out of Halifax; masks in apartment buildings; retail restrictions; and more power for the police
About today's briefing
Premier Stephen McNeil and top doc Robert Strang are giving a COVID-19 briefing starting at 3pm today. You can watch live at novascotia.ca/stayinformed/webcast, or catch it later at the Nova Scotia government's YouTube page.
Yesterday we started hearing—from the traditional journalistic "reliable sources"—that Strang will be announcing a wholesale shutdown of bars, restaurants and gyms. Then Strang went on CTV Atlantic to further soften the ground for more restrictions to come. So with a day for media and the public to get used to the idea, watch for major closures at the briefing.
Speaking on @CTVAtlantic News at 6, NS Chief Medical Health Officer Robert Strang says more measures are coming for bars and restaurants in Halifax, and there’s also “more to come” on travel in the days ahead.— Steve Murphy (@CTVAnchor) November 23, 2020
Halifax hits 1,000 cases
The new week begins on a down note, with Nova Scotia's announcement of 11 new cases for the second day in a row. "All 11 new cases are in Central Zone," said the provincial report. "Eight are connected to previously reported cases; three are under investigation. One of the cases was detected Saturday, Nov. 21, in a pilot rapid COVID-19 screening program for bar staff and patrons in downtown Halifax."
These 11 cases bring the Nova Scotia Health Authority's Central zone to 1,000 total cases since the start of the pandemic, a milestone nobody wanted to reach. Although the Central zone includes a wide radius of towns around Halifax Regional Municipality, given how important the Northwood nursing home was to driving numbers up in the first wave, and the second wave's infamous Bedford cluster and near-constant NSHA alerts about potential exposures around the city, HRM is doubtless responsible for most if not all of those 1,000 cases. This is not cause for celebration.
Today the new gathering restrictions come into effect, targeted mostly to the city. "The recent rise in cases has led to new restrictions in metro Halifax Regional Municipality and parts of Hants County," said the update. "Also today, the Atlantic premiers are calling on people in the region to limit their travel."
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