1. The good news about COVID
We’re still in the midst of a fourth wave of the pandemic in Nova Scotia; there is still community spread and there have been more exposure notices for local schools — Dartmouth South Academy and possibly a couple of others.
Which is to say that the virus is still spreading in Nova Scotia and we all should continue to be cautious.
Still, there are three pieces of very good news on the COVID front.
#1 Canada’s vaccine strategy seems to have paid off
“New Canadian data suggests the bold strategy to delay and mix second doses of COVID-19 vaccines led to strong protection from infection, hospitalization and death — even against the highly contagious delta variant — that could provide lessons for the world,” reports Adam Miller, a Health reporter for the CBC:
Preliminary data from researchers at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and the Quebec National Institute of Public Health (INSPQ) shows the decision to vaccinate more Canadians sooner by delaying second shots by up to four months saved lives.
I’m one of the people who got a first shot of AstraZeneca and a second shot of Pfizer, and I’ve been a bit concerned that this mix would provide less protection than two shots of Pfizer or Moderna, but Miller’s reporting puts me at ease:
“For those who received the AstraZeneca vaccine as their first dose, their protection against any infection was lower than for mRNA vaccine recipients, but they had comparable protection against hospitalization and that’s the main goal,” [vaccine effectiveness expert Dr. Danuta Skowronski] said.
“But for those who received a first dose of AstraZeneca and a second dose as an mRNA vaccine, their protection was as good as those who had received two mRNA vaccines. So that’s also a really important finding from this analysis.”
#2 Nova Scotia is reaping the rewards of its high vaccination rate
Over 81% of the entire population of Nova Scotia (including young children) have received at least one dose of vaccine, and over 76% have now received two doses. (In terms of the 12-and-over eligible population, it’s about 90% and 85% respectively.) Together with PEI, these are among the highest vaccination rates on Earth.
As a result, we’re seeing that while there’s still spread among unvaccinated people, including young children, the spread outside that group is quite limited.
The Department of Health each week releases figures for the number of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths among those who are fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, and unvaccinated. On Friday, those figures were:
From March 15 to October 6, there were 5,214 new cases of COVID. Of those:
• 257 (4.9%) were fully vaccinated
• 332 (6.4%) were partially vaccinated
• 4,625 (88.7%) were unvaccinated
From March 15 to October 6, 290 people were hospitalized. Of those:
• 7 (2.4%) were fully vaccinated
• 29 (10.0%) were partially vaccinated
• 254 (87.6%) were unvaccinated
From March 15 to October 6, 32 died. Of those:
• 3 (9.4%) were fully vaccinated
• 3 (9.4%) were partially vaccinated
• 26 (81.3%) were unvaccinated
But those figures aren’t weighted to consider the change in vaccination rate over time — that is, in June, very few people were fully vaccinated, but now, about four times as many people are vaccinated as are unvaccinated.
A better analysis would show cases, hospitalizations, and deaths per category (fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, and unvaccinated), and so I made spreadsheets* detailing this information weekly per 100,000 in each category, since the province started releasing that information on June 11.
For last week, the case numbers are:
For the most recent reporting period, Sept. 30- Oct. 6, there were 261 new cases of COVID. Of those:
• 70 (9.7 per 100,000) were fully vaccinated
• 22 (38.6 per 100,000) were partially vaccinated
• 169 (86.9 per 100,000) were unvaccinated
Here is the graph of weekly case numbers per category since June 11, well before the Fourth Wave:
Now let’s look at hospitalizations.
For the most recent reporting period, Sept. 30- Oct. 6, 11 people were hospitalized. Of those:
• 1 (0.1 per 100,000) was fully vaccinated
• 0 (0 per 100,000) were partially vaccinated
• 10 (5.1 per 100,000) were unvaccinated
Here is the graph of weekly hospitalization numbers per category since June 11:
What this means is that for the last reporting period in Nova Scotia, unvaccinated people got COVID nine times more frequently and were hospitalized with the virus 51 times more frequently than were fully vaccinated people.
For shorthand, and this isn’t exactly right (frequency and likelihood are not the same thing) but it’s close: fully vaccinated people are nine times less likely to get COVID and more than 50 times less likely to be hospitalized with COVID than are unvaccinated people.
Thankfully, Nova Scotia has had too few deaths to make meaningful comparisons, but the one person who died in the most recent reporting period was unvaccinated, reflecting a death rate of 0.5 deaths per 100,000 unvaccinated people.
#3 The proof of vaccination requirement is working
Most every night, Public Health issues potential COVID exposure advisories and I dutifully update the map I’ve created to track active advisories (above). You can zoom in on the map and click on the icons to get details about each site.
Previous to last week, the evening advisories were full of restaurants and bars. Recall that the Department of Health continues to explain that “there are signs of community spread among those in Central Zone aged 20 to 40 who are unvaccinated and participating in social activities.” Social activities for that set includes hitting the bars that were showing up in the advisories.
But starting last Monday, there was a stark change: there were no restaurants or bars all week and then just two last night (The Cut in Halifax and the Chowder House in Tatamagouche). Monday, of course, was the first day restaurant and bar patrons were required to show proof of vaccination.
It could be that unvaccinated people — who as we saw above, are far more likely to have COVID — who were going to restaurants are now going to house parties or partying elsewhere, but even if so, that probably means they are having far fewer contacts, which means the virus isn’t spreading as much as it was.
Again: the virus is still out there, and there are outbreaks in the community and exposures in schools. I’d be surprised if this afternoon’s new case count (reflecting the four-day weekend) is fewer than 100.
So we’re not done with the pandemic, but things are looking up.
2. Tim Houston
“I was listening — but distractedly — to the latest provincial COVID briefing last week, so I didn’t catch the reporter’s question,” writes Stephen Kimber:
But I did hear Premier Tim Houston’s chuckle. “I don’t know,” he said simply and referred the question to Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health.
It was just a minor moment, but it seemed to capture something different — and refreshing — about this new government: a premier who seems comfortable enough in his own skin to admit he doesn’t know, and to laugh about it.
That may not seem like a big deal but consider our most recent comparables. First, of course, there was Always Angry Stephen McNeil, who was succeeded by Iain Rankin, The Puppet Masters’ Script Reader, neither of whom could ever acknowledge doubt let alone admit they might have been wrong about something.
I don’t mean to get ahead of myself.
Timothy Jerome Houston has only been the 30th premier of Nova Scotia for south of two months. There have already been serious stumbles and gaffes, too many half measures when the situation called for better. And, of course, we have yet to see our new government’s full legislative agenda.
But, on balance, I must say I prefer Houston’s more human responses to controversy and conflict to what has gone before.
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The House of Assembly sits today for the speech from the throne, which will lay out Houston’s legislative agenda for the coming term.
3. East Preston Empowerment Academy
“Howard Benjamin was born in Jamaica and has lived in Canada since 1977. Now 51, he was a second-year apprentice working as an industrial electrician for the Department of National Defence when a co-worker first told him about the East Preston Empowerment Academy (EPEA),” reports Matthew Byard:
Though he wanted to gain his Red Seal, he said reading and comprehension challenges with the exam held him back.
“I think that the way certain people in certain communities communicate and speak is different than people that might [even] be in the same town,” he said. “If you were to go to a community and the test was written in a way, say, that community normally speaks, you’d probably find that those folks would understand the verbiage.”
In the EPEA’s second year, in 2015, Benjamin signed up for the pathways program to earn his Red Seal and attended classes on Monday and Friday nights. He said a lot of the people who attend the meetings are very proficient in the industries in which they work, but they struggle to get certified.
“We know that there’s a lot of people of colour who’ve been traditionally doing the concrete work in this province,” Benjamin said. “But there’s been very little-to-none that are actually Red Seal designated. Meaning they can never bid for that job, meaning they will always be subjugated to some other company, giving them second rate … subcontractor money.”
“Right now Nova Scotia’s booming in construction, and that community isn’t getting to take advantage of it like other communities are.”
Benjamin was one of many EPEA graduates who were interviewed as part of a study into the work of the EPEA. The study, conducted by Deloitte Canada, found not only did EPEA graduates contribute more than a million dollars to the province’s gross domestic product (GDP) over a four-year period, but that more than 70% of EPEA graduates reported an increase in income after graduating the program.
4. Northern Pulp
We’ve taken Joan Baxter’s Sept. 7 article, “Wastewater from Northern Pulp’s hibernating paper mill is being discharged into the Bay of Fundy,” out from behind the paywall. In the article, Baxter reported:
Since July 2020 Northern Pulp has been shipping run-off and “landfill leachate” from its hibernating pulp mill site on Abercrombie Point in Pictou County to Colchester County’s municipal sewage treatment facility in Lower Truro, which discharges into the Bay of Fundy.
Invoices obtained through a Freedom of Information request show that between July 2020 and June 2021 Northern Pulp shipped more than 25 million litres of its wastewater to the Central Colchester Wastewater Treatment Facility (CCWWTF).
Northern Pulp has paid the Municipality of the County of Colchester more than $800,000 for handling all that wastewater, much of it exceeding municipal by-law limits for chemical oxygen demand, or COD, a measurement of pollutants in wastewater that is critical for accurate modelling of how effective an wastewater treatment process has been.
5. Slow Tourism
Like any good freelance writer, Lola Augustine Brown used her recent trip to PEI to pitch a story to the Globe & Mail about the newly created Island Walk:
… a new signposted trail system inspired by Spain’s famous Camino de Santiago that leads travellers on a 32-day, 700-kilometre walk around the entirety of the province. The idea is that you walk 21(ish) kilometres a day…
The Island Walk is broken up into 32 sections and can be started at any point. Lodging should be booked ahead of time, and partner hotels along or close to the route that offer transfers are listed on the Island Walk website. The signposted trails are user-friendly and not terribly challenging, save for a few rolling hills here and there. The route mostly follows the coastline, and goes through the island’s cities and towns while also venturing onto parts of the existing Confederation Trail that runs across PEI and has long been popular with cyclists.
Part of the appeal of a walk like this, says Island Walk creator Bryson Guptill, is that it brings travellers back to a pace that we no longer operate at — which becomes very addictive. “It’s about walking and thinking and the people you run into and chatting with them,” Guptill says. “And part of what’s so special about PEI is the people you meet here.”
You can read Brown’s personal experience with the Walk at the link, but it was interesting to read that the Walk has already resulted in 600 hotel room nights, even though the trail signs are still being installed.
Americans have long had the twin cross-country trails, the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Coast Trail, and there are remote trails around the world like the Arctic Circle Trail, but these are tough adventures for seasoned hikers. I had a handful of friends in California who did all or part of the Pacific Crest Trail, and it entailed starting in the south and heading north with an ice axe in order to make it through the mountain passes of Yosemite before the spring thaw made them impassable.
But hiking doesn’t have to be either “carry an ice axe, 40 pounds on your back, and we’ll see you next fall” or “forget about it, you’re a pudgy middle-ager who can’t keep up with the kids.” There’s an enormous middle ground that accommodates people of all ages and abilities.
Slow Tourism trails like the Island Walk are aimed at attracting not the hard core, but rather everyday and even novice hikers and cyclists who intend to stick around for a while and who want a greater appreciation of place — they want to deeply experience the local environment, culture, cuisine, architecture, and history.
I have a friend in Germany who regularly cycles with a pal or two through the Alps. He describes it as a comfortable experience: a van takes their bags and the gear they don’t need to carry with them to the next inn on the route, and the fellows cycle up and around the mountains, stopping for lunch at a café, then continuing on that evening to the inn, where they have a good meal, a few beers, and a soft bed before starting anew the next day.
That’s the kind of experience offered along the Camino de Santiago, and although I think it’s a stretch to compare the Camino with the Island Walk, they are of a kind.
And why hasn’t Nova Scotia developed such a tourism attraction? We have some fantastic trails around the province, but they’re mostly isolated from each other and intended as one-day hikes (with the huge exception of the Cape Chignecto Trail, which is for hardened hikers); there’s certainly no tourism promotion targeting Slow Tourism.
I wrote about this missed opportunity in 2015:
Speaking of tourists, MLA Brendan Maguire has been pushing to get the shoulders of Old Sambro Road and Ketch Harbour Road paved in order to give a more pleasant riding experience to bicyclists, reports the CBC.
Which is all well and good — it’s a great cycling route with wonderful views, and the lack of a paved shoulder presents a lot of conflicts with cars. But I’ll again suggest something much more ambitious: a separate cycling road, not just for the Sambro Loop, but around the entire Chebucto Peninsula — that is, constructing a bike path either through or above the Terrence Bay Wilderness Area, connecting Sambro to Whites Lake, and continuing along parallel to Highway 333 to Peggys Cove and then up to Tantallon.
There is a tremendous opportunity for bicycle tourism around the peninsula. The route could be pedalled in a long day, or cyclists could spend the night at one of the many B&Bs along the route. This is done elsewhere in the world. The Moselle Cycling Trail in Germany brings hundreds of thousands of cycling tourists from around the world every year, and is a significant segment of the local economy.
The golf dude probably isn’t into cycling, but if he’s really serious about doubling tourism…
Such a bike road would have the additional benefit of bringing political forces in line to protect the shoreline and forests and ocean views.
For hiking and/or cycling, we have the rail-to-trail of, for example, the old Halifax and South Western Railway route that once connected Halifax and Yarmouth. In HRM, it’s the Chain of Lakes Trail and the BLT Trail — cyclists regularly head out from the city to the Train Station Bike & Bean in Tantallon, and then turn around and come back, because no one is urging them on to a place to spend the night. There are components of the trail all the way down the coast, but so far as I’m aware, no one is packaging them as a singular tourism experience — walk or cycle to this B&B and a shower, your fresh clothes, a good meal, some local beer, and a comfortable bed will be waiting for you, before you continue on the next morning.
Imagine if we spent 10% promoting a South Shore Trail as we spend on giveaways, subsidies, and promotions for millionaire golfers.
PEI gets it, but still Nova Scotia fails to grasp the opportunity.
6. Drug policy
“The local CBC is running a multi-part series on “street drugs” and if I didn’t know better, I’d suspect it was being sponsored by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, because the stance it takes on drugs — they’re bad and people who do them die — seems out of step with the times in 2021, particularly when the drug under discussion is cocaine,” writes Mary Campbell of the Cape Breton Spectator:
People do cocaine without dying. People do cocaine and end up president of the United States…
I hope it is not necessary to state that I realize drugs do harm, but just in case, let me state: I realize drugs do harm.
But how do they do harm? Well, as the CBC series has documented, one problem is that when people buy drugs off the street, they don’t know what they’re getting (cocaine cut with fentanyl, powerful synthetic opioids). But that, as organizations like the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition argue, is precisely because street drugs are illegal and there are no rules governing their production or distribution, no systems of quality control.
The series also referenced “organized crime” and “biker gang” involvement in the drug trade, but surely that’s a lesson we learned during the original Prohibition, when the aforementioned Women’s Christian Temperance Union prevailed, the manufacture and sale of alcohol was banned and yet, somehow, its purchase and consumption continued pretty much unabated? When the only effect was to put the “organized” in organized crime?
If the substance in question is illegal, though, it’s even worse. We criminalize addiction as part of the pointless, fruitless, endless war we’ve been waging on drugs for decades now — the war we’re basically being asked to endorse when cops like Const. Campbell are given the mic and allowed to claim (without evidence) that people in CBRM are funding their coke habits with CERB or that everyone on the Newfoundland ferry is a potential smuggler. The war that has led to over-policing of marginalized communities. The war that hasn’t worked.
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1. Supply chains: capitalism cannot fail; it can only be failed
I was going to write a long and detailed analysis of this, but I suddenly realized the headline speaks for itself: the problem isn’t that usurious capitalism has looted the economic infrastructure to the point that it breaks at any minor stress point, but rather that you peasants aren’t behaving as our models say you should.
Halifax Water is embarking on a big project in Dartmouth — a $7.7 million separation of the sewage and stormwater systems along part of what is called the Albro Lake System Drainage.
This “Drainage” used to be known as a creek called Northbrook, which ran from Albro Lake to Little Albro Lake, and then under a bridge on Victoria Road. The creek was big enough to power the mill and Dartmouth Rope Works on Wyse Road (hence, the Old Mill Tavern, which was razed to make way for the existing Sobeys), then ran further down the hill roughly along what is now Jaimeson Street through to the harbour. Most of the waterway was put in pipes in the mid-20th century, but a small sliver of the old creek has been allowed to flow above ground just north of the liquor store in Northbrook Park.
When the area was developed, sewage from houses was simply dumped in the piped creek, and so was mixed with storm water from the streets, and the whole mess went untreated right into the harbour, where seagulls and rats would pick through the toilet paper and poop.
The Harbour Solutions sewage project mostly addressed that problem by building a pumping station at the foot of Jaimeson Street, where the old outfall into the harbour was. The pumping station diverts the combined sewage and stormwater into a big pipe running along the harbour and delivers it to the Dartmouth Sewage Plant near the community college. Well, except when it rains a lot, and then the Jaimeson Street Pumping Station overflows, again releasing untreated sewage into the harbour, but it is so diluted by storm water that it is less of an environmental hazard.
Halifax Water intends to address the overflow problem and reduce the flow going to the sewage treatment plant by separating the sewage from the stormwater, at least for the section of the drainage between Cairn Street and Windmill Road. They’ll do this by turning the existing combined pipe into a storm water only pipe, and installing a new pipe dedicated only to carrying the combined sewage/ storm water from upstream and sewage only along the new section.
It’s an enormous, and therefore costly, job. You can read the details of it here.
The project makes sense on its own terms — it will ultimately reduce the amount of rain water going to the sewage plant and being needlessly treated, and therefore save money, and will additionally decrease the number of times that combined sewage and storm water overflows into the harbour, thereby improving the environment. All good.
But I hope that we can understand that the piped storm water is, in fact, a creek — Northbrook — and that it is a potential candidate for “daylighting” — bringing above ground — one day. Obviously, this would mean separating out the sewage into a new pipe upstream, and so would be even more costly, but the current Halifax Water project already spans about half the watershed.
Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm) — livestreamed, with captioning on a text-only site
Legislature sits (Tuesday, 1pm)
Dalhousie’s 11th Annual Mawio’mi (Wednesday, 10am, Studley Quad, rain location McInnes Room, SUB) — cultural celebration with Indigenous-inspired lunch, Powwow, Indigenous arts and crafts
Moral injury and the biology of intergenerational trauma (Wednesday, 2:30pm) — session four of the Moral Courage: Dallaire Cleveringa Critical Conversation Series
In the harbour
07:00: Maersk Clipper, offshore supply ship, arrives at Pier 9 from St. John’s
09:20: My Lady, yacht, arrives at Foundation Wharf from Oak Island with all the secrets
14:00: MOL Emissary, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Caucedo, Dominican Republic
15:00: Thunder Bay, bulker, arrives at Gold Bond from Quebec City
16:00: USCGC Healy, icebreaker, sails from Dockyard for sea
18:00: New England, oil tanker, moves from anchorage to Irving Oil
01:00: Mia Desgagnes, oil tanker, sails from Government Wharf (Sydney) for Corner Brook, Newfoundland
* methodology: I’ve used the number of total cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in each category reported each Friday (usually for the seven days through to the previous Wednesday) and subtracted the totals from the previous Friday to get a weekly total of each. For vaccination status numbers, I’ve taken the total number of vaccine doses administered and total number of second doses administered as reported from two weeks previous to calculate the number of people in each category (full vaccination is achieved two weeks after receiving the second dose, partial vaccination two weeks after the first dose). The unvaccinated number is the entire provincial population of 971,395 (as calculated by the Department of Health using 2019 population estimates) minus the numbers in the other two categories.