Last Thursday, Nova Scotia saw eight new daily cases of COVID-19. On Friday, the number was 10. Fearing a coming explosion in case numbers, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang imposed new restrictions Friday — Halifax area bars have to close at 10pm, sporting competitions are cancelled, and non-essential travel into and out of HRM is banned.
The public was also encouraged to get tested, and people have done exactly that. Over 21,000 people — roughly 5% of the population of HRM — lined up to get tested from Friday to today.
But the expected explosion in case numbers hasn’t materialized. Saturday saw four new cases, Sunday three, and there was just one new case announced both Monday and today (Tuesday, March 2).
Today’s new case is Nova Scotia Health’s Northern Zone and is a close contact of a previously announced case. It is a man aged 20-39.
There are now 29 known active cases in the province. Four people are in hospital with the disease, and two of those are in ICU.
The active cases are distributed as follows:
• 8 in the Halifax Peninsula / Chebucto Community Health Network in the Central Zone
• 6 in the Dartmouth/ Southeastern Community Health Network in the Central Zone
• 7 in the Bedford/Sackville Community Health Network in the Central Zone
• 3 in the Cape Breton Community Health Network in the Eastern Zone
• 1 in the Inverness, Victoria & Richmond Community Health Network in the Eastern Zone
• 1 in the Colchester & East Hants Community Health Network in the Northern Zone
• 1 in the Cumberland Community Health Network in the Northern Zone
• 1 in the Annapolis and Kings Community Health Network in the Western Zone
One case isn’t ascribed to a community health network.
Nova Scotia Health labs conducted 5,146 tests yesterday, a single-day record
More pop-up testing has been scheduled for the following sites and times:
• Thursday: Spryfield Lions Rink, 10am-4:30pm
• Friday: Spryfield Lions Rink, noon-7pm
Here are the new daily cases and seven-day rolling average (today at 4.3) since the start of the second wave (Oct. 1):
And here is the active caseload for the second wave:
Here is the updated potential exposure map:
Today, officials with the province’s vaccination program gave a technical briefing to reporters about the progress of the vaccine rollout.
The chart above shows when people of various age brackets can expect to get vaccinated, with the caveat that the supply of vaccines comes in as expected.
However, it’s very likely that the schedule will be speeded up, for several reasons.
First, it is expected that new vaccines will be approved. More on that below.
Second, it’s also expected that later this week new guidelines will be issued that will lengthen the interval between the first and second doses of both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines. So far, Nova Scotia has been strictly sticking to the manufacturers’ recommended 21-28-day interval, but Strang said today that he expected that the new guidelines will extend the interval to be longer than the 40-day interval recently adopted by some provinces. The longer interval means that the blue lines on the graph above will stretch both farther to the left and to the right.
Third, as vaccine shipments become larger, more regular, and more predictable, the province will likely stop the practice of holding back the second dose of vaccine and instead use all the arriving doses right away. This means that more people will receive the first dose sooner.
The province is primarily administering vaccine based on age cohorts. Strang has repeatedly defended that strategy, pointing out that age is by far the highest risk factor for dying from the disease, even when underlying health issues are considered.
But that said, vaccine program officials describe the plan as multi-pronged, with five delivery models:
• Long-Term Care: nursing home staff and residents, along with contracted care providers (pharmacists, physicians, etc) who work in the homes. This is soon being extended to private nursing homes larger than 30 bedrooms.
• Health Care Worker Clinic: eight clinics have been set up for health care workers who are most at risk of dealing with COVID patients, and those health care workers will receive the vaccine based on age cohort, those over 60 in the first group. These include:
— doctors, nurses and continuing care assistants who work in community practice or provide care in the home
— dentists, dental assistants and dental hygienists
— pharmacists, pharmacy assistants and pharmacy technicians
• Centralized Community Clinic: “arena style” facilities that can handle hundreds of people in a few hours. “Four of the 10 community-based vaccination clinics opened for booking in Halifax, Sydney, Truro and New Minas on March 1,” reads a provincial release. “These clinics will start immunizing on March 8. Three more community COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Antigonish, Halifax and Yarmouth will also start booking on March 8 for clinics running March 15.”
• Distributed Provider Clinic: in-office vaccination by doctors and pharmacists. Four “prototype” clinics will start this month, as follows:
— March 9: Halifax Regional Municipality and Shelburne
— March 16: Port Hawkesbury
— March 23: Springhill
That pharmacy program will be expanded in April. The pharmacists will contact people, based on age cohorts.
• Outreach: mobile public health units and staff will vaccinate specific populations that are hard to reach or have transportation issues. An example was a 90-year-old person who lives with family and can’t travel to a vaccination site. In such cases, the vaccine will be delivered by van. But officials stressed that these singular deliveries will not happen before mass vaccination is well underway, as the focus is on getting large numbers of people vaccinated as quickly as possible.
The reservation system breakdown
As the Halifax Examiner reported yesterday, the province’s online booking system for vaccine registrations for those over 80 broke down on its first day.
The province uses a vendor called Canimmunize. Officials said the system was modelled based on Nova Scotia’s population of over-80s and experience in other provinces. The expectation was the booking site would receive 250 hits per minute, but twice that came in Monday.
As the same system manages the ongoing vaccination clinics, it was decided to protect the operation of those clinics and so the booking side of the site was disabled, and then much limited.
Officials attributed the crash to two problems.
First, people seemed to be coming to the site even though they weren’t eligible to register — that is, people younger than 80 were coming just to check it out. The officials said there may have also been some bots or automated visits to the site, which Strang suggested today could reflect actors with “malicious intent.”
Second, just as registration opened, officials learned that the interval time between first and second doses might be extended, so they limited booking to just the first week. The fear was that if people booked past that, they would have to be rebooked for their second dose (as it would be postponed) and this might cause general confusion and upset people.
In any event, officials maintain that the system is now up and running again, and it will be tweaked to have people register either alphabetically or by month of birth, so as to not overwhelm the system again.
Tax rebates for small businesses
Also today, Premier Iain Rankin announced a property tax rebate for “restaurants, gyms, hair salons and small businesses in the service sector.”
The Small Business Real Property Tax Rebate Program provides qualified businesses a one-time rebate of a portion of their paid property taxes. Qualified businesses can choose a rebate of $1,000 or 50 per cent of the commercial real property taxes paid for the final six months of the 2020-21 tax year.
About 3,300 businesses will be eligible, with details published in mid-March.
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