1. Still no vaccinations for provincial prisoners and staff
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What’s the status of prisoners in provincial jails and staff who work there when it comes to vaccinations? Zane Woodford asked the Department of Justice a lot of questions, and only got a few answers. Among the unanswered questions:
Has there been any vaccine rollout in provincial facilities? How does it work? Clinics in jails? Which vaccine? How many prisoners have been vaccinated? How many staff?
Woodford has a story today about calls to depopulate the jails, because the risk of COVID-19 transmission is so high for people who are incarcerated.
In a news release on Monday, the East Coast Prison Justice Society (ECPJS) said it’s “alarmed to learn that there has been no vaccination rollout either for provincial prisoners or correctional staff, despite prisons being obvious vectors of community and institutional co-transmission, and the heightened vulnerability & disproportionate numbers of Indigenous, racialized, and disabled prisoners.”
Prisoners are vulnerable to COVID-19 because they’re in a closed setting, with staff coming and going — much like a long-term care facility. Recognizing that risk and a number of outbreaks in prisons across Canada, the federal government began immunizing prisoners in its facilities in January.
But the province is lagging.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang was asked about the plan for vaccinating prisoners during Monday’s COVID-19 briefing. His response:
“Plan’s in place, information is already going out to our correctional staff and getting them into … one of the many community locations with a priority access so … that’s already been communicated to them. They need to step forward and get vaccinated.
“Within probably the next week we’re going to be in and providing vaccine in the correctional facilities. We’re also looking at ways … and many people in our correctional facilities are there for short periods of time. They often come in and out on weekends on remand. So we’re looking at ways about how, on an ongoing basis, we immunize those people as they’re in the facilities on remand.”
The many risks of prisons in the COVID-19 era are well documented: poorly maintained and unclean; with a lack of PPE, and a population with complex needs, stemming from lives of surviving abuse, poverty, and social exclusion, prisons are rife with infectious disease…
Here in Nova Scotia, leaders of the community organizations John Howard Society (J), Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia (E) and Coverdale Courtwork Society (C) launched the JEC program last spring in response to the danger COVID-19 posed to people in prisons. In a few short months JEC supported 55 people to secure independent housing. Despite the success of this initiative, and of Nova Scotia’s unparalleled success reducing incarceration by 41%, when funding for JEC ended last summer, so did the project…
Prisons have not succeeded in containing COVID-19, in preventing outbreaks and death, despite the extreme sacrifice people inside have endured — near complete separation from support. It is time to stop pretending this expensive approach is viable and time to invest in community solutions like the very one grown here.
I’d like to point you to a piece called How We Survived COVID-19 in Prison, published by The Marshall Project. Writer Nicole Lewis reached out to incarcerated people beginning in March 2020, to find out how they were managing in the pandemic.
Even on the best days, prison can be a soul-crushing place. Now the pandemic was stripping away many of the things that make incarceration bearable: Visitors were shut out. College classes ended abruptly or moved online. Recreation time was limited. To make matters worse, many prisons are old, dank and crowded spaces. They are notorious for subpar medical care. If the coronavirus found its way in, it could spread like a deadly wildfire.
In the piece, Lewis publishes some of the correspondence from three men, serving sentences in New York, Wisconsin, and Ohio, and one woman, in Florida.
At first, some think they will be safe. They are isolated from the rest of society, and not allowed visitors. But then guards start getting sick. And many of them refuse to wear masks.
Jennifer Graves writes:
Preventive medicine is not the prison’s forté. You must be almost dead before you can actually receive care.
In late March, we started to worry when a doctor made rounds for the first time since the pandemic started. She instructed us to keep our hands and throats washed, even if it meant gargling with soap. She also suggested we keep our faces covered with a mask made out of toilet paper.
No one made a mask out of toilet paper. We thought it was ridiculous…
I sleep in an open dorm with 78 beds, eight showers, 12 toilets and eight sinks. Our bunks are only 2 feet apart, side by side. I asked if we could sleep head-to-toe to make some distance, and the answer was “not yet.”
What are they waiting for?
At the Marion Correctional Facility in Ohio, James Ellis writes:
Sometimes I’d talk with the other guys about what we could do to let people know about our conditions. We’d see on the news that our prison was the number one hot spot in the country. We started sending out videos showing the conditions. We told our loved ones to share our stories on social media.
The governor wasn’t doing anything to get us relief. And some of the guards still refused to wear masks. There are people in here that treat us like we are not human. The ones that do, their co-workers call them “inmate lovers.”…
Having COVID was terrifying. The virus had put others in the graveyard at an alarming rate. I was sick for a couple of weeks. I think some of the other guys might be “long haulers,” but they won’t say anything about their symptoms because it could mean winding up in isolation. When you’re isolated, you lose a lot of your personal property. No one wants to take that chance.
The whole piece is well worth your time, not only for the prisoners’ stories, but for the evocative illustrations that accompany them too.
2. Government silence on COVID numbers
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
The Department of Health and Wellness is the gatekeeper when it comes to releasing information to the public about COVID-19 cases. The door continues to shut more firmly on what the province is prepared to tell reporters and the public.
Since the first 20 COVID cases were identified last weekend at schools with Grades P-12 in the Halifax Region as well as in Sydney and Truro, the Halifax Examiner has repeatedly asked the government to tell us how many students have tested positive across all schools. The Department of Health has refused, citing privacy concerns that could lead to individuals being identified:
Details about identified cases are only provided publicly if Public Health determines there is a need to do so for contact tracing or other public health reasons,” emailed Shannon Kerr on behalf of the Department of Health early yesterday evening. “We are not breaking down school cases by students/teachers to protect the privacy of those who test positive. By identifying if a case is a student or staff, it creates the potential for a person to easily be identified. As always, close contacts will be notified, tested and asked to self-isolate for 14 days.
That explanation appears pretty thin when you consider we are talking about a group of thousands of people. There are currently 31 schools in Nova Scotia — 26 in the Halifax region — where students, teachers, or support staff have tested positive for COVID-19. You can find the list of schools here although there is no information about how many students, teachers, or support staff may have been infected.
Three more schools were added late last night: Sydney Academy, Bedford and Forsyth Education Centre (Bedford), and Halifax West.
The Examiner has never requested a school-by-school breakdown, only the total number of students across the province who tested positive. In the news release issued last night, the province retreated even further. It has decided not to tell the public how many additional cases emerge once a school has been named as having a single COVID case.
“From now on, a case connected to a school will be reported via news release only when it impacts the school’s status (for example, students move to at-home learning). Families will continue to be notified directly of all cases connected to their school,” reads the news release issued at 11:03pm.
That should shut down any pesky questions about transmission rates or how many cases are connected to particular schools. If teachers and students aren’t told how many people got sick, they are less likely to blame the government for not taking adequate precautions. The Nova Scotia Teachers Union has been saying that for months. On the other hand, unless people who work and attend school are kept informed about the extent of the outbreak, how likely are they to remain compliant and stay close to home for two to four weeks? Knowledge is power.
There are currently 323 Nova Scotians with active cases of COVID. Five people in hospital, two people in Intensive Care. The Examiner asked how many students have been hospitalized, a reasonable question that would not identify anyone, and again ran up against the privacy shield.
“With the exception of Public Health determining there is a need, we do not provide details such as gender or age for individual cases to respect the privacy of individuals who are in hospital,” said Kerr’s email from the Department of Health.
And an exception was made yesterday when Premier Rankin indicated at the COVID briefing one of the five people in hospital is a person in their 20s, perhaps trying to discourage the end-of-term partying that resulted in fines on the weekend and that could lead to more community spread. But don’t ask about hospitalizations among public school students, that’s a no-no.
Last but not least — since the first three cases among staff at nursing homes in Dartmouth (Glasgow Hall at Parkland at the Lakes and Ocean View Continuing Care Center) were reported late last week, the Examiner has continued to ask the Department of Health if there are more cases in long-term care facilities across the province. We have not received an answer.
The question was asked because although most long-term care residents have received at least one dose of vaccine and many have two, as of last week only about 60% of caregivers in nursing homes and residential care facilities had received one vaccination, according to an estimate provided by the Department of Health. Part-time staff working at more than one location and vaccine hesitancy among this group have made inoculation a challenge.
Efforts are underway to get more people vaccinated, quickly. And with long-term care residents locked down and all nursing homes in HRM closed to visitors, there is no pressing need for Public Health to mention new cases. Same deal with the schools — they’re now closed — what does it matter how many staff or students eventually test positive?
But gosh it would be nice to be treated like a grownup and kept informed about what Public Health learns. Hopefully, the door will open to allow a freer flow of information.
It’s hard to see what the government is aiming at with this secrecy. Some of the fury aimed at the supposed Ontario partiers (we’ve never had confirmation of a party, as far as I know, only an “event” — which could be anything) and at the students who flaunted their tickets for gathering illegally is truly frightening. I mean sure, the fact that people were not isolating and partying is also frightening, but when people get scared they often seek to blame, which can lead to revenge, which can have truly horrible consequences.
We are all hearing rumours constantly, and fear and rumours together are an ugly and dangerous proposition. Like Jennifer Henderson, I hope for more transparency. There is certainly room to release more information without endangering individual privacy.
3. Daily COVID-19 update: 66 new cases, many schools closing
Nova Scotia recorded its highest daily number of COVID-19 cases yesterday, with 66.
Tim Bousquet brings us his daily update. Five people are in hospital, including two in the ICU–one of whom is in their 20s. Here are the daily cases and seven-day rolling average.
We have been at a bit of a plateau the last few days, so it will be interesting to see if we stay there, or see further exponential growth.
Bousquet has considerably expanded the daily update, which includes detailed testing info, an update on schools, and of course the latest exposure advisories.
4. Two bus drivers test positive
Zane Woodford informs us that two Halifax Transit drivers have tested positive for COVID-19, and that a number of other drivers are off work. Some are self-isolating because of potential exposure to the virus, while others, says Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508 president Ken Wilson, are scared to go to work.
There are currently 30 potential COVID-19 exposures related to Halifax Transit routes on public health’s list. Wilson said those are all related to passengers.
Wilson said he’s “extremely concerned” about his members’ safety in this third wave. He said he’s asked Halifax Transit director Dave Reage to reinstate the safety measures in place a year ago — reduced passenger limits, free fares, backdoor boarding — and to enforce the mask requirement.
“All things we did in the first wave, all denied, nope,” Wilson said. “So we’re still collecting fares, we’re still loading buses up. Office workers can’t work with any more than five people in one room, but we can put 30 people on a bus, no questions asked, without masks and we can’t enforce it.”
Woodford reports that a municipal spokesperson tells him no changes are currently planned with respect to safety measures on busses.
5. Former councillor Lorelei Nicoll seeks provincial Liberal nomination
Lorelei Nicoll, who served as a municipal councillor for 12 years but did not re-offer last year, hopes to run for Liberal Party in Cole Harbour-Dartmouth in the next provincial election, Zane Woodford reports.
The new riding of Cole Harbour-Dartmouth encompasses portions of the current Dartmouth South, Cole Harbour-Portland Valley, and Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage ridings. The lines were redrawn as part of the 2019 Electoral Boundaries Commission, which increased the number of electoral districts in the province — and seats in the legislature — from 51 to 55. There’s an interactive map showing the old and new ridings here. The new districts come into effect for Nova Scotia’s next provincial election.
George Mbamalu, who ran for council last year, is also seeking the nomination.
Counting our pandemic losses in years, not deaths
Premier Iain Rankin (or at least his communications people) seem to be trying to get us to adopt a new slogan. I mean, “Stay the blazes home” really caught on with people, but I guess the new guy has to distinguish himself from his predecessor in some way. So we get this:
Often when I see one of these “trying too hard” hashtags, I go see who else is using it. Does it have any pickup? In this case, there are a handful of tweets, a few using the phrase earnestly. More use it against Rankin (as in straight up when are we going to get paid sick days?)
By afternoon, a new iteration had appeared:
But, as I write this, the hashtag has appeared in exactly one tweet, from the premier’s account. Will it catch on? Who knows?
The calls for paid sick days in Nova Scotia have increase lately (understandably). Are paid sick days important? Of course. But I was struck by something Toronto-based freelance science writer Kat Eschner (more on her excellent work in a minute) shared on Twitter about how sick days are really the bare minimum, and it is an expression of failure that so much hope hinges on this bare minimum. (I would argue the “fight for 15” to raise the minimum wage falls into the same category.)
Paid sick leave isn’t the ideal policy. The ideal policy is to really narrow the idea of essential services down to the bare minimum, vaccinate those essential people immediately, and pay everyone to stay home. But that is not politically feasible.
If people have paid sick leave, the thinking goes, then they will be able to stay home *in the event* they are experiencing symptoms or are in the same household as someone who is. It basically reduces the likelihood someone will come to work sick, and it’s the very bare minimum of worker protection.
But I think the fact the conversation has come to center around this very conservative measure is a reflection of how very oriented our society is around always having a class of worker who is at work.
Eschner has been one of my go-to writers throughout this pandemic, and I am glad to see her work getting wider exposure. She has a beautiful, painful piece in the April 21 New York Times called The Years We’ve Lost to Covid.
In this piece, she makes the case there are better ways than counting deaths to gauge the true impact of loss brought by the pandemic. We can instead look at number of years of life lost.
Eschner opens with Anna Carter, a 13-year-old who died of COVID-19 in Oklahoma last year. Her life expectancy at birth was 77.9 years. She introduces us to Anna — her passions, her aspirations — and then talks about shifting focus away from number of deaths alone, and looking instead at lost years:
Looking at lost years shifts the focus from death to life and reveals the depth of this pandemic’s impact crater: In 2020, the United States lost around four million years of potential life, a sweeping international study published in February found.
“It’s such a big number that if I’m truly honest, we don’t have the mental capacity to process it,” said one study author, Mikko Myrskyla, the executive director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research.
Looking at years lost, quickly puts to rest any notion that the deaths of older people don’t matter, because they would have died soon anyway. (I mean, this is a horrible, horrible way to think, but even at this stage I hear people dismissing deaths because people had other conditions. As if that matters.)
[London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Professor of Health economics Dr. Andrew] Briggs said that by centering the Covid-19 conversation around deaths, it makes it easier to discount some who have died. “We moved from a situation where everyone was concerned about flattening the curve,” he said, “to people starting to talk about, well, these are old people who would have died anyway.”…
[Briggs’s] February study found that the largest contributors to lost years were in the 55 to 75 group, which Dr. Briggs’s study found to have lost between 5.5 and 25 years each, depending on their age and health.
“It’s not true that people would have died anyway,” he said. Other research has built on this concept, concluding that prioritizing the oldest and frailest people for vaccines saved not only the most lives, but also the most years of potential life.
Eschner has a real talent for communicating complex ideas understandably, and for humanizing the science and statistics. Near the end of her piece, she returns to Anna Carter:
Before her death last summer, Anna Carter lived 13 years, eight months and eight days. In that time, she hiked Mount Fuji, went to church, played with her baby brother, David, and coveted fake nails. She aspired to become an entertainer or maybe go into medicine and try to make the world better for others with scleroderma, the autoimmune disease she lived with.
Her life expectancy at birth was 77.9 years. You could measure the loss of her time in years she might have spent with her family or the degrees she might have earned. Perhaps it’s the dances she won’t perform or the cures she won’t find. Or just the years her family expected to have with her as a daughter and sister. “I just have her smiling face in my head all the time,” Amber Carter said.
I always appreciate stories that help change and reframe the way we look at events. Eschner’s piece is one of those.
It is important to remember the stories of people lost, like Anna, and also to look at how we explain the impact of the pandemic to ourselves and each other.
CBC Radio’s Atlantic Voice re-aired host Angela Antle’s 2020 interview on defunding the police with regular Examiner contributor El Jones on Sunday. You can listen to it here.
Jones talks about rethinking the role of police, and whether it makes sense for them to respond to mental health calls, noise complaints, and minor infractions. She argues that a steady diet of cop shows have led to the impression that police work is far more dangerous than it is, when so much of it is low-stakes work that could be handled by other institutions:
We’re constantly relying on this idea that there’s chaos in society and the only people that can keep that chaos down is this powerful cop. And I challenge that. I think that’s actually a myth. And it’s actually quite a childish myth, but we don’t really examine it…
Even when there are rules on the police, even when the police violate their rules, there’s nobody stopping them… We don’t know our own policies. We don’t know what our police use of force policy is, because they don’t release it. We don’t know what their policy is on restraints. Again, these are things we pay for. Even if you’re listening to this conversation and saying, “Aw, this is all — I believe in policing” you should at the very least want to know where your money’s going and believe that you have the right to know what policy is governing your police and that there should be strong oversight… I think these are really important conversations that people need to be invested in, even if they completely believe the opposite from what I believe.
As always, Jones is worth listening to, so if you missed the conversation the first time, you can catch up now.
Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm) — livestreamed on YouTube, with captioning on a text-only site
Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm) — virtual meeting
Western Common Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 6:30pm) — livestreamed on YouTube
Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am) — video conference: Department of Labour and Advanced Education, with Duff Montgomerie and Carol Lowthers
Natural Resources and Economic Development (Tuesday, 1pm) — video conference: Agenda setting
No public events
Safe Space for White Questions (Wednesday, 12:30pm) — a series of free, public, monthly drop-in sessions that are open to all but aimed at people who identify as white and are interested in working toward collective liberation. Come ask the questions about race, racism, social change, and social justice you always wonder about but feel nervous asking. Watch the livestream and past sessions on Youtube.
Linking inter-organelle communication with cholesterol traffic through the endocytic pathway (Wednesday, 4pm) — with Emily Eden from University College of London, via Teams online.
In the harbour
05:30: RCC Prestige, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
10:00: Thunder Bay, bulker, sails from Anchorage #10 (off Dartmouth Cove) for sea
11:30: RCC Prestige sails for sea
16:30: MSC Eleni, container ship, arrives at Berth TBD from Montreal
08:30: Moscow Spirit, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
08:30: Rt Hon Paul E Martin, bulker, sails from Nova Scotia Power Coal Dock for sea
09:30: Sonangol Huila, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from Prof. John Evans Atta Mills (an oil platform operating off Ghana)
10:00: Glovertown Spirit, barge, sails from Sydport for sea
10:00: China Dawn, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper anchorage from Es Sider, Libya
11:00: Navig8 Precision, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
16:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove Quarry from Baltimore
How did I not know until this morning that “You Could Have Been a Lady,” which I only ever knew as an April Wine song is originally by Hot Chocolate? (I highly recommend looking at the videos in both the April Wine and Hot Chocolate links — even for a few seconds — just for the outfits.)