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.
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Editor's note: In its 28 years The Coast has never been a just-the-facts news service, but for these strange times this news centre offers quick-hit updates.
This might be community spread
Two new COVID-19 cases today, and the province's update is notable for lacking the tidy reassurance that they're related to travel. "The new cases are in Central Zone and are under investigation," is all the detail we received from the province. That means obvious travel-related causes—like the patient or someone they live with is freshly returned from a trip to some C19 hotspot outside Atlantic Canada (the words "to some C19 hotspot" may be redundant)—aren't involved here.
The public health contact tracers need to dig deeper, trace more contacts. Their investigation may yet discover a travel connection to either or both of the cases, which is the outcome we'll hope for in coming days. But in the worst scenario, contact tracing can't find a link and this becomes the start of second-wave community spread.
Scary spreading on Halloween
Nova Scotia has five new cases of COVID-19, the most reported in one day since May 15. That was more than five months ago, at the tail end of the province's first infection wave.
The cases are distributed across three of the four Nova Scotia Health Authority zones: two in the Western zone (think Bridgewater, Yarmouth, Wolfville), one in Central (which includes Halifax) and two in the Northern zone (as happened yesterday).
"Four are related to travel outside Atlantic Canada and one is related to a previous case," says the province's C19 update about today's five patients. "All have been self-isolating as required."
It's impossible for us to know exactly how the one case is related to another case; the province consistently refuses to give out such details, so we're not even going to bother asking. But it's easy to speculate.
If we look back over the last two weeks before today—an incubation cycle for the virus—there have been 12 cases, and 10 of them were people who travelled outside the Atlantic bubble. Of the other two cases, one was a technicality: somebody who's a permanent residence of Nova Scotia, but they are currently living outside the province, where they got and recovered from C19 (details here under the "Oh crap" heading).
The last of the recent cases was reported on Monday as "a close contact to a previously reported travel-related case." That feels like maybe someone had to leave the province, then they got home and while in quarantine infected their spouse or child or roommate.
Saying close contact suggests intimacy, not randomness. It's doubtless intended to reassure the public that the disease isn't spreading very far, that the infection was predictable if not inevitable, that you'd know if you have anything to worry about because you know when the people closest to you are leaving the safety of the Atlantic bubble for the coronavirus hotzone that is Canada's other provinces.
But today's case isn't a "close contact" of another case. It is simply "related to a previous case." And yesterday in the Northern zone, one of the cases involved someone who didn't need to self-isolate because they're an essential worker. The person went into isolation when they realized they have C19 symptoms, implying they were circulating in the community for some time before that. If they infected some random person while in the community, and the public health contact tracers figured out the connection between the essential worker and the rando, that would not be a "close contact." However, it wouldn't have to be called community spread, which is when nobody can figure out the connections between cases. It could fairly be described as "related to a previous case."
That's pure conjecture, and anyway it's just one of today's five cases. The message from the other four cases is that you should think twice before leaving the Atlantic bubble, a message top doc Robert Strang made explicit. "These new cases show that with the second COVID-19 wave happening, travel outside the Atlantic Bubble is more risky," he said in the province's update. "Our recent new cases are all related to travel. Nova Scotians should reduce non-essential travel outside of the Atlantic Bubble."
With these five diagnoses coming on the last day of the month, that makes for a total of 21 new cases in October. There were only three new cases reported in Nova Scotia in September.
Coronavirus tricks, not treats
Usually the province emails out its daily COVID-19 report around noon. Sometimes earlier, sometimes later, but noon is a reliable average. So when three o'clock rolled around with no update, we knew today wasn't going to be straightforward. At 3:05pm we found out why.
Nova Scotia has two new cases of C19. They're both in the Northern health zone, the area that includes Truro, Amherst and the New Brunswick border. They're connected to travel outside the Atlantic bubble. One of the cases is a person who went into quarantine when they got back to the province, as required, before developing symptoms. Nothing unusual so far.
The other case would be the problematic one, at least from the perspective of the province figuring out how to describe it without causing public alarm. This patient is considered an essential worker, so they didn't quarantine after arriving in Nova Scotia because they don't have to. Here's how the province ended up describing the situation:
The other individual was not required to self-isolate under the Health Protection Act Order, but did self-isolate as symptoms developed. The order allows workers who are essential to the movement of people and goods and who must enter Nova Scotia as part of their work, to be exempt from the requirement to self-isolate.
Note how the province took pains to say that the patient self-isolated when they felt symptoms, which is a two-pronged public relations message hinting that 1. essential workers are not irresponsible and we don't need to reconsider that designation to shore up Nova Scotia's defences when the west of Canada is going through a terrifying second wave outbreak, and 2. the risk of community transmission is low because they went into quarantine when symptoms started. But Nova Scotians know it's called "asymptomatic spread" for a reason, and the spectre of community spread has indeed been raised. Which is fitting for Halloween eve, but is otherwise awful.
The province also extended the state of emergency for another two weeks, although that couldn't have delayed today's report from coming out. The SOE has been extended every two weeks since it was first announced in March.
Streaking in the good direction
This is more like it. For the second day in a row, the province is reporting no new COVID-19 cases. AND someone who had the fool disease has recovered, bringing us down to four active cases. Keep it up, Nova Scotia!
A break from infections
With The Steve & Strang Show about to start, the province is reporting both no new cases of COVID-19 and one patient recovered from the disease. This slow C19 day is all the more reason for premier McNeil and top doc Strang to use their briefing to explain to Nova Scotia why Irving Shipbuilding is allowed to keep ducking our public safety rules (see below).
Catch the briefing, not the disease
Premier Stephen McNeil and Nova Scotia chief medical officer of health Robert Strang are back with another episode of The Steve & Strang Show. Catch it today at 12:15pm.
McNeil and Strang’s webcast COVID-19 briefing used to happen live every day, and it was popular required viewing back when the province was on lockdown, and death and disease ran rampant. Now they don’t have a regular schedule—briefings seem to happen about once every two weeks—making it harder for the public to follow. Which is either part of this government’s plan to hoard information and keep regular people out of the loop, or reflects a level of Covid complacency that Nova Scotia arguably deserves.
Either way, Strang and McNeil better address the latest quarantine exemption the Irving Shipyard received from the province. What we’re heard is the repulsively rich Irving corporation didn’t want to pay for a person to sit in a hotel room for two weeks of isolation, so they got an exemption to quietly import someone from Quebec who went straight to work among hundreds of local shipbuilders, apparently not wearing a mask or taking any sort of isolation precautions. A week later, other workers found out and took the sensible step of refusing to work. That was yesterday.
The CBC story says about 90 workers took the day off, so instead of losing the cost of having a single employee isolate for 14 days, Irving lost 90 days of work—or more than paying six people to quarantine. That’s on top of the risk to Nova Scotia, where most other people and businesses are doing the required sacrifices to protect public health, because we’re supposedly all in this together.To find out what our leaders have to say about enabling this multi-faceted asshole Irving move, the briefing starts at 12:15pm. You can watch live at novascotia.ca/stayinformed/webcast, or catch it later at the Nova Scotia government's YouTube page.
Our recipe for success
Do you think we’re going to get the second wave?
It’s easy to start a conversation in Halifax with that question, as second-wave COVID-19 continues to swell over most of the rest Canada. And the answer typically mentions the two-week self-isolation period for travellers to the east coast—“The quarantine has worked so far”—before going deeper into some mixture of hope and fear.
Today’s report of someone getting C19 makes two days in a row that Nova Scotia’s had cases. This sort of streak is a far cry from those awesome no-case streaks we’ve enjoyed lately. But at the same time, it doesn’t mean the second wave is lapping at our shores. So far all it shows is the quarantine is working.
”The new case is in the Central Zone and is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada,” reads the province’s C19 update. “The individual has been self-isolating, as required.”
Washing hands, wearing masks, distance, diligence, vigilance and a quarantine. This is Nova Scotia’s recipe for success. Don’t mess with it.
Maybe we should just stop Toronto planes?
There’s been another Toronto-Halifax flight where passengers might have been exposed to C19. Here’s the alert the NS Health Authority just issued. Note that is was an Air Canada flight on Saturday, and symptoms may not appear for two full weeks.
Nova Scotia Health Public Health is advising of potential exposure to COVID-19 on Air Canada flight AC 626 on October 24 from Toronto to Halifax. It departed Toronto at 9:30 p.m., landing in Halifax at 12:15 a.m. on October 25.
Passengers in rows 18 to 24 seats A, B, C are more likely to have had close contact. Passengers in these seats are asked to call 811 for advice and to continue to self-isolate.
It is anticipated that anyone exposed to the virus on these flights may develop symptoms up to, and including, November 7.
Getting off on the wrong foot
The province’s daily COVID-19 update has the week starting in an unwanted direction: there is one new case. It’s in the NS Health Authority’s Central zone, a large area that includes Halifax, and as the provincial report to media says, it is “a close contact to a previously reported travel-related case.”
In other words we continue to have good luck in Nova Scotia, with all our recent cases tied to travel and no sign of community spread. Plus there’s another positive development, as two people who had C19 have recovered since yesterday’s numbers came out, leaving us with five active cases, none of whom are sick enough to be in the hospital.
The national overview
Quebec hit an awful milestone yesterday, becoming the first province to pass a total of 100,000 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Its October second wave is even slightly higher than the worst of May (the respective peak rolling averages are 1,117 cases per day on October 9 and 1,108 cases per day May 3), although lately the numbers are heading down as this graph shows. Hopefully that trend continues.
Meanwhile, since Friday every jurisdiction in the country except Nunavut and Prince Edward Island reported new cases. The North and the east coast have nowhere near the number of infections seen in the rest of Canada, but they no longer seem immune to second-wave C19.
With November and ever-colder weather approaching—making outdoor get-togethers uncomfortable compared to more coronavirus-conducive indoor gatherings—viral spread is projected to increase. That’s a scary thought considering the rolling daily count of new cases is still setting a record nearly every day. Its next milestone is 35,000 cases in the past two weeks, a mark Canada looks destined to reach soon according to this national graph.
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