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1. Stephen McNeil: Community response can head off worst-case COVID-19 scenario

March 16, 2020 press conference called to announce two new COVID-19 cases in Nova Scotia. Left to right: Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey, Premier Stephen McNeil, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Strang. Photo: Tim Bousquet / Halifax Examiner

Yesterday, Tim was at the press conference where two new COVID-19 cases where announced. That brings the total to five (three cases were announced on Sunday).

The new cases are a Halifax couple in their 50s who are presumed to have contracted the virus at an event that included guests who recently travelled out of the country. That couple is self-isolating at home and health officials are working with the organizer of the event to learn more about the people who were there.

Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s Chief Medical Officer, said “it would be premature to say that has now resulted in spread in the community.”

Premier Stephen McNeil says the Health Authority is working toward a “worst-case scenario,” which includes ordering 140 ventilators. But he also stressed that social isolation is “single biggest thing we can do to protect our system.”

It’s tough for me to say this, but if your grandparents are coming home from the United States after being there for a number of months, don’t go see them for two weeks. If your parents are coming home, don’t go see them for two weeks. If you’ve been away, do not go back in your family environment; isolate yourself from your loved ones. That’s the least you can do. You protect not only them, you protect your neighbours and community.

Read the full article here.

2. From panic to positive action: building a better response to the pandemic

Caremongering-HFX is a forum where people can share resources, ask questions, and get reliable information about Covid-19.

Yvette D’Entremont learns about the psychology behind some of our responses to COVID-19, including the toilet paper hoarding. She talks with Howard Ramos, a sociology professor at Dalhousie, who says the toilet paper began in Japan where one person took a photo of an empty grocery store shelf and posted it on social media. Ramos says in a situation like this, people look to do things they can control. And hoarding toilet paper seemed like a good idea to many.

In terms of the toilet paper, often what ends up happening in that reactive period of trying to do something in a situation where you feel you can’t do anything is you look to what other people are doing. And if you see that your neighbours are buying a bunch of toilet paper, well then there’s a herd mentality where you feel that you need to buy toilet paper.

D’Entremont also spoke with Amber Tucker, a Halifax resident who started the Caremongering-HFX, a forum that helps people respond to COVID-19 in more positive ways. The group is similar to others popping up across the country. The Halifax group has grown from 100 members to 4,700 since Friday.

The forum helps connect people with extra items who want to share them with those in need. Other members are sharing ideas on how to keep the kids busy who are home. It’s also a place where members can ask questions about COVID-19 and get information from reputable sources. Says Marine Decaillet, one of the page’s administrators:

We are doing our very best to create a platform where people can share when they’re anxious, get moral support from other people, get supplies if they need to, just have a space to liberate themselves from this panic.

It is really important to teach people how to be critical of the information that they have and that they have access to and to always question it

Read the full article here.

I’m so glad to see Yvette writing for the Examiner. Welcome!

3. As they postpone large St. Patrick’s Day events, Irish-themed bars worry about staff

Today is St. Patrick’s Day but many of the celebrations at local pubs and bars were cancelled or postponed. Still, some of the bars are remaining open, but taking measures to limit the number of customers and keep them a safe distance apart. Jennifer Henderson spoke with Cheryl Doherty, co-owner of the Old Triangle, about the decision to stay open today.

Right now, our biggest concern is our staff. We have 55 people here. They are part of an economy where they don’t have the luxury of working from home. A lot of people don’t have social and financial safety nets. The government really needs to step up. They had indicated people who had been infected, or needed to self-isolate, could apply for EI early, but they haven’t seemed to extend that to people who might be thrown out of work!

We’re a family business and none of us slept last night. Do we lay off the guy who has two young children, or, layoff the guy whose wife is expecting twins? We also have staff coming forward who said they want voluntary layoffs because they have elderly parents and they don’t want to be exposed; so we are trying to answer these questions.

We have no doubt that within the next week or two bars and restaurants will be shutdown by government. But if we voluntarily close now, my staff have no recourse. They are just out of work with no money.

This morning I noticed Finbar’s, which has locations in Bedford and Dartmouth, and its staff have organized a group of volunteers to help the elderly or the immunocompromised with running errands, walking dogs, and whatever else they might need help with.

Katelyn Bourgoin, a Halifax-based growth strategist, started a Go Fund Me to raise money for those hospitality workers (there are about 30,000 in Nova Scotia) who will be losing wages and tips as the establishments where they work shut down. The goal is to give each worker $250 in “tips” to 100 workers in need.

4. East Coast Prison Justice Society sends open letter with recommendations for release of the incarcerated

Image from uptownnotes.com

The East Coast Prison Justice Society sent an open letter to Dr. Robert Strang, Justice Minister Mark Furey, chief justices, and a number of others in the legal and prison systems with a list of initiatives to be used to prevent the spread of COVID-19 amongst those in the province’s prisons.

The recommendations include granting conditional releases to those non-intermittent prisoners, including those over 50 years old who are at higher risk, those with compromised immune systems, those who are pregnant, as well as mothers and those who are primary support parents.

As for remanded prisoners, the Society asks for temporary absences. Those in the East Coast Forensic Hospital should receive supports and services to be released into the community without delay.

Read the full letter here.

5. A basic income during a pandemic (and beyond)

Basic Income Nova Scotia is calling on the federal government to start a basic income program for low-wage workers and those in the gig economy.

I wrote about Universal Basic Income last May when I attended the Basic Income Conference hosted by Basic Income Nova Scotia. I saw a number of comments and posts about basic income in the last few days as a way to help the workers who are now out of work because of COVID-19. As I learned, a basic income can help not only low and minimum wage workers, but also gig workers like musicians and artists, as well as entrepreneurs just starting out. Many of these workers are out of an income right now and don’t qualify for EI (although yesterday, Premier Stephen McNeil did say EI should be extended to the self-employed). In yesterday’s Morning File, Tim mentioned the need for a basic income as a bottom-up way to support the economy and workers.

Yesterday, Basic Income Nova Scotia released a statement and a petition calling on the federal government to start a basic-income program now for those workers who may sink into poverty over the next weeks and months. Here’s the full statement:

The Corona Virus pandemic is a public concern of huge proportions. Many at all governmental levels are focused upon how to deal with the health and economic fall-outs from it. The danger that we face in our response, is that temporary stop-gap measures will be implemented, focusing upon what are perceived as ‘more deserving’ segments of the population. As a society, we feel great concern for people who may become unemployed and sink into poverty. We are concerned for the precariat who will face their worst nightmares. These people will face dilemmas that are a way of life for people already living in poverty. But when the pandemic subsides, poverty will still exist.

We have an opportunity—a responsibility–as we construct a response to the present crisis, to ensure that our policies support all people in society–permanently. As a nation we can choose to embrace policies that are not just stop gap measures but are long term, financially sound, and pro-active solutions that take the pain out of the “unforeseen” challenges that society will face, not just now with the Corona virus, but in the future and when other crises arise. Basic Income Guarantee is a long-term and do-able solution.

The uniqueness of a Basic Income program is that it is a pro-active long term financially sound solution that provides every citizen with a secure financial floor below which she/he can not fall, regardless of circumstances. The principles of a Basic Income (see BIG-NS principles document) stress that it is a human right not to live in poverty and it is everybody’s moral obligation to contribute to this income floor through income redistribution. A Basic Income does not replace but becomes a central and essential component of a comprehensive social support system required to take care of all members of our society. Other supports must accompany it including mental and physical health care, pharmacare, affordable housing, a living wage, and laws that ensure protections.

Basic Income is a social insurance policy that could and should be in place for all of us, so we don’t have to ask if the gig worker is endangered or if the person providing home care deserves to have a liveable income, or if the minimum wage earner should have a life with a sense of security. Those that historically have lived on the margins of income security deserve as much as anyone else to be protected against unforeseen calamities, as are those that have been able to firewall against the same challenges by abundance of income.

Now is the time for the federal government to start implementing a Basic Income. They are already looking at spending billions to stimulate the economy and more to help those affected by wage loss. A basic income would cover both those bases. And it could be done through modifying the current tax system.

I know a lot of gig workers and they have lost several, if not all, of their gigs or contracts in just a few days. They’re looking for new ways to make a bit of money, but many don’t have a backup, nest egg, and can’t get EI or sick days. A basic income right now could keep them going until this is over. But this is also a good time to think about how we support workers whose contributions we should recognize and value even when we’re not in a crisis.

The petition from Basic Income Nova Scotia is here. You can find Basic Income Nova Scotia on Facebook here.

6. Update on schools and daycares

CBC compiled a list of answers to some questions about schools and daycares in the province. Many of the daycares have shut down, although small private operators with fewer than six children can still operate.

My daughter is in high school and like many other parents and kids we were wondering how learning will continue during the two-week shutdown after March Break and even beyond. Certainly, the school year has to continue somehow. As CBC points out, the Halifax Regional Centre for Education sent out a notice to parents yesterday, saying they are working with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Education to look at options and a response will be shared with families at the end of the week.

Online, I see a lot of parents sharing ideas and resources for how to keep their kids busy and learning for the next while. It’s also been nice to see families get outside, too.


Views

1. Looking for the helpers

I’m settled in and working from home and keeping myself busy otherwise, but I wondered what was being done to help the city’s most vulnerable people during this crisis. I can easily go to the grocery store and stock up on whatever I need and want (I have enough toilet paper), but that’s not an option for far too many people. So, I reached out to several organizations in the city to learn about their plans to help clients now.

Linda Wilson at Shelter Nova Scotia says they’re working with other shelter providers to coordinate an approach for their clients at their six shelters, including Metro Turning Point on Barrington Street. They’re also working with Housing Nova Scotia to see where they can offer support. Wilson tells me they need supplies of toilet paper, canned foods, fruits and vegetables, and cleaning products. She points out that need is there year-round.

I am afraid we will be further forgotten as the world takes care of itself. Christmas is over after all, as we have discussed.

Wilson sent along this article from Business Insider about how some shelters in San Francisco are using RVs to house those people on the street who are diagnosed with coronavirus. We will wait and see if this becomes an option here.

Last night, I stopped into Freedom Kitchen, the food truck that operates in the parking lot of the Sackville Public Library and serves the homeless and many young people there. I got there at 6 p.m. and they had already served 200 people a meal of baked potatoes and pulled pork. Co-chair Rainie Murphy says she cut back on the number of volunteers and just has a core group of five serving the public, including herself, Nina Townsend, Jackie Lowe, Tara Forhan, and Marilyn Boekhoven, all working in the truck donated by the Salvation Army. Like many restaurants, clients at Freedom Kitchen are just asked to pick up the food and no one was hanging around. The Den, a drop-in centre for youth in the library basement, is closed indefinitely. Freedom Kitchen also has a closet with donated clothes clients can take, but that’s been shut down for now, too. Murphy said they expected numbers to be lower, but she messaged me later last night to say they had served 311 people in two hours.

The team at Freedom Kitchen are Jackie Lowe, Marilyn Boekhoven, Nina Townsend, Rainie Murphy, and Tara Forhan. All serve meals every Monday night from a food truck at the Sackville Public Library parking lot. Photo: Suzanne Rent

Forhan is the vice-chair of Freedom Kitchen talked about how the community was really stepping up to help them serve. Restaurant supplier Big Eric’s dropped off toilet paper to hand out. A local dental office dropped off a box of toothpaste. Next week, Townsend is bringing her own food truck out of the garage and will serve her specialty, stuffed baked potatoes.

We’re trying to minimize the impact. Not feeding people is not an option for us.

Rainie Murphy, co-chair of the Freedom Kitchen, serves from the truck parked at the Sackville Public Library. Photo: Suzanne Rent

At Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank, client services coordinator Cynthia Louis says they are still serving, although they tweaked the process for now. Clients can’t go into the food bank and choose what they’d like, but she says they have boxes-to-go to hand out. She says only one staff person will be in the food bank organizing and prepping those boxes to eliminate the exposure to the virus. Parker Street serves about 1,200 clients, including mothers with young children, seniors, and people with disabilities.

We know poor people are the most affected by this but they can’t afford to stock up for two weeks.

Some of the social connections the food bank provides are gone for now. Louis says the waiting room where clients would wait and maybe visit is now closed. She says they will offer delivery to those clients who are seniors or disabled and can’t leave their homes, which could be a strain on the volunteer resources. Louis says more volunteers are always needed.

Whatever you do is not just meeting a need, but showing you care for humanity.

Karen Theriault at Feed Nova Scotia tells me they’re in conversations with member food banks, government, and donors about their plan.

It’s business as usual to the best extent that we can.

She says there has been an increase in uptake the last couple of days. Fundraising events have been cancelled or postponed and they are leaning on the community and donors to give through online financial donations, which are better than food donations at this point. They’re following protocols from the Public Health Agency and the provincial department of health and wellness. Theriault says they are providing updates on their website here.

At Halifax Meals on Wheels, Risa Lee says deliveries will continue, although volunteers won’t be visiting with clients, but rather just dropping off meals at their door (that cuts off a social connection temporarily). Lee says up to three-quarters of their 100 or so volunteers are retirees and some of them aren’t able to help out now (about 68 volunteers are the core group who deliver on a regular basis). Halifax Meals on Wheels has about 150 clients (there are programs in Dartmouth and Bedford-Sackville, too). But Lee says despite the challenges COVID-19 brings, they still can accommodate more clients.

At Hope Cottage, today is the last day staff and volunteers here will serve a sit-down dinner. Director Joe Morgan says they made the decision to have one meal a day compared to the usual two, and that meal will be available through pick up at the door at the location on Brunswick Street. That starts Wednesday. Morgan says most of the clients do have a place to stay like a room at a nearby boarding house.

Like Meals on Wheels and the food banks, Morgan says many of their 38 regular volunteers are seniors, too. They have three staff and one is isolating because they are close friends with a volunteer who was recently out of the country and is in self-isolation. Hope Cottage typically serves about 200 meals a day.

We’re going to do whatever we can do. We’re not going to close completely. You can’t take that away from these people. These people need to eat.

Morgan says the pickup at the door will go on until month’s end and they’ll re-evaluate at that time. He says they are also looking at the status of their two major fundraisers: a golf tournament and a dinner and auction. Hope Cottage doesn’t get any government funding and isn’t in Feed Nova Scotia’s network. It relies on donors and the help of 28 groups to prepare meals.

This is a unique thing that’s happening. We have to deal with it like everybody else.

Michelle Porter, CEO and co-founder at Souls Harbour, sent me the letter she’s sending out to donors and others. Like Hope Cottage, their staff and volunteers are also only serving sack lunches at the door. Staff are wearing masks and gloves. They need donations of cleaning supplies and food. In her letter, Porter says volunteers are also available for a phone call for those who are self-isolating. The group’s social enterprise, Mission Mart in Bayers Lake, is open for now, as long as there are staff and volunteers to work there. Porter says they are advising social distancing and there is a sanitation process in place.

These are just a handful of the organizations that are serving the most vulnerable people every day. These staff and volunteers can’t work from home; they’re still on the ground doing the work and adapting their plans as needed. Everyone I talked to or met seemed to have those plans together under challenging circumstances. The team at Freedom Kitchen were in very good spirits and we even had a few laughs (I always say laughter is a sign of resilience.) All of these groups, and I know there are many others, are accepting donations online. Many need volunteers. I really think this is a time a lot of people will step up and reach out. We’re seeing it already.


Noticed

On Sunday, I went for a drive on Highway 215, which starts at exit 10 off Highway 102 and runs to Highway 1 around Brooklyn. I’ve done about half this drive before, usually stopping at Noel and heading back home via the 354 through Kennetcook and Beaver Bank, past the house near Kinsac corner where I grew up.

I stopped in at Maitland and to Frieze and Roy, the oldest general store in Canada (Maitland was also one of the first heritage districts in the province, by the way). Then Burntcoat Head Park where there were a few visitors, even though the park is closed for the season and you can’t walk on the floor of the Minas Basin when the tide is out (you should do this when the park opens.) I drove through to Walton and stopped at the Walton Lighthouse, the last original lighthouse in Hants Count, which is closed for the winter. But I walked in anyway and was the only one there. After taking a wrong turn at Walton Woods Road, I found my way back to the 215 and went home, stopping into Uniacke House in Mount Uniacke. It was a pretty good day and I wanted to get outside before we are all told we can’t.

I didn’t see many people out. I noticed a couple of people chopping wood and a woman riding horseback along the highway (I want a horse, too!) There were a few customers at Frieze and Roy. But this is a quiet part of the province.

I stopped into a convenience store and gas station in Centre Burlington and asked the owners how COVID-19 was affecting their business. At that point, it hadn’t affected it much, except people were stopping in to fill up with gas and take extra cans of gas with them. There aren’t many gas stations on this route. Then I saw this sign at a small church near the store.

It’s very rural along the 215. How the people who live here will fare, I don’t know. It’s far from any commercial centres and the hospitals in Windsor and Truro, although I saw a small community health centre along the way.

But I also saw signs in several communities that said Citizens on Patrol, 24-hour surveillance. I’m sure it was to watch out for any suspicious activity or speeding drivers on these twisting roads, but I hope it’s also just a reminder that people here are looking out for their neighbours, too, and that everyone is doing their part.


Government

No public meetings this week.


On campus

All events are cancelled.


In the harbour

10:00: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
13:00: Julius-S, container ship, sails from Pier 31 for sea
16:30: Atlantic Sail sails for New York
17:00: Sarah Desgagnes, oil tanker, arrives at anchorage from Saint John
18:00: Tortugas, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England


Footnotes

Social media has been interesting these last few days. I think some of my friends on Facebook may start the unfriending process. Others are just signing off entirely, at least for a little while. I see some are frustrated with the posts and comments they see as fear mongering. Others seem to have become experts on epidemiology and are sharing their advice on COVID-19 or posts from questionable sources. I’m ignoring almost all of them. Yesterday I was blocked by a “friend” who left for a trip down south on the weekend and has been sharing selfies non-stop. I think it’s because I posted this: “I feel like most of us are in this together, except for those who went on their March Break trips, even after the advisories came out.”

In a pandemic, you find out who your real friends are.

Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent

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3 Comments

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  1. Suzanne,

    Thank you for your excellent reporting, as always. I appreciate the local coverage that cbc lacks.

    Please don’t judge me for being on vacation. I booked the vacation and paid for it in January when travel wasn’t an issue, and even when I left Canada there were no travel advisories. Now I have to self isolate when I return Thursday (hopefully!) and will not be able to volunteer or do my job properly.

    I am lucky that I can work from home and will be paid but feel awful that I won’t be able to contribute more.

    Annie

  2. While our elected officials should ensure that our doctors, hospitals, scientists and emergency preparedness experts have the resources they need to tackle the immediate COVID-19 pandemic, I hope that those who are not directly involved in the hands on management of the pandemic, will step back and take a longer view. Soon there will be calls for financial bailouts from larger corporations and industry sectors saying that the funds are necessary to rebuild our economy. But, perhaps we should be reconsidering whether we really want the global just-in-time consumer economy that provided the means for COVID-19 to hop around the world. Perhaps we need a more robust local economy, one with a universal basic income and one that recognizes that not all necessary services generate a profit. For those not involved in dealing with emergency services, COVID-19 may be a reminder to pause and consider how to build a resilient HRM, NS and Canada.

    1. CBC had a story about a ventilator manufacturer blaming Canada for not stockpiling ventilators after SARS, because it showed a lack of foresight. Later in the same story, the same person was quoted as saying his company could only produce a limited number of ventilators because they use lean processes and just-in-time manufacturing. Well yeah, if you build a system with no slack in it, how can it be resilient?