Two men in suits stand in an office. One has a pink tie and grey hair, the other a red tartan tie and no hair. There are chyrons on the screen saying the man on the left is Tim Houston, Premier of Nova Scotia, and the man on the right is Dr. Robert Strang, CMOH for Nova Scotia. Behind them are a series of colourful posters with the words "Pictou County" at the top.
A screenshot of Houston and Strang’s video. — Twitter/@nsgov

Premier Tim Houston posted a folksy two-minute video Wednesday morning on the provincial government’s official Twitter feed featuring himself and Dr. Robert Strang speaking to Nova Scotians.

The message appears to be an attempt to get ahead of bad news expected late Thursday afternoon that will show an increase in the number of positive COVID-19 cases as well as a growing number of people in hospital due to the virus.

Last Thursday’s weekly communication from public health reported two deaths, 11 people in ICU, and 336 people in hospital with COVID-19, 48 of whom were new admissions over the previous week.

“COVID-19 is present. There’s lot of COVID around,” Houston said in his video message, speaking directly to the camera.

“And it’s stubborn. It’s not going anywhere. And given how contagious the current strain of the virus is, we are going to see cases rise. They are high now–they could go higher over the next little while. But eventually we will see them come down.”

A message from Premier Houston and Dr. Strang. For more on how to keep protecting yourself and the people around you from COVID-19, visit https://t.co/B6dFWM7xq0. pic.twitter.com/DOMG5IDz3k

— Nova Scotia Gov. (@nsgov) April 6, 2022

Houston continued his message, adding he “can’t stress strongly enough” the need to take COVID seriously.

“But you don’t need mandates to keep your families safe. You already know how.”

Anecdotal reports of high absentee rates at schools and workplaces (more than 600 healthcare workers were off this week, forcing the cancellation of all non-urgent surgeries) has put the Houston government under pressure to return to daily reporting of COVID numbers.

One of the frequently heard concerns is that people who might be tempted to do things like attend hockey games without wearing a mask or go to work with cold-like symptoms need to know the level of risk before making personal health decisions.

The Houston government lifted most restrictions around gathering limits and wearing a mask in indoor public places three and a half weeks ago. They’re still required in public schools, hospitals, long-term care facilities, home care and provincial jails.

Over the last two days, opposition leader Iain Rankin has implored the Houston government to change course and provide information on a daily rather than weekly basis and to reinstate regular briefings with Strang.

“I don’t think a rushed video after Question Period yesterday is the way to show your government is listening to medical health experts, including epidemiologists,” Rankin said on Wednesday afternoon in response to the Houston video message.

“It’s all about tolerance. If you want to tolerate higher case numbers that inevitably end up in hospitalizations, then the government has that prerogative. I had less tolerance for that because of those most vulnerable being impacted.”

Liberal leader Iain Rankin speaking with reporters on Wednesday. — Photo: Jennifer Henderson

Rankin supports bringing back the requirement for citizens to mask up in all indoor public places while case counts are climbing.

In Ottawa, the testing of wastewater has revealed higher levels of virus than seen before. The testing of Halifax wastewater at four sites by a Dalhousie University research team is ongoing. Spoiler Alert: the levels of virus in Halifax wastewater is also rising.

The Houston video aims to reassure. Against a soothing soundtrack, Houston is flanked by Strang who repeats the familiar public health advice on how to stay safe.

“Vaccines offer the best protection against this virus, especially against severe disease. Wear a mask in large crowds and in indoor public spaces,” Strang said.

“Keep your social circles small and consistent. Use rapid tests and if you do test positive, you need to isolate for 7 days.”

A Nova Scotia Health (NSH) poster at the Portland Street Medical Clinic reminding people masks are still required in some settings. — Photo: Jennifer Henderson

NDP leader Gary Burrill had not yet seen the video when asked by reporters for his response to its messaging.

Burrill, who is retiring as NDP leader in June, had his own message for the premier: reinstate paid sick days for workers to help prevent the spread of the virus among those who don’t have the option of working from home. During an earlier wave, the McNeil government paid for four days.

“If people are in a position where they have symptoms and can say to themselves, without financial penalty, ‘I think I better stay home today,’ that means they are being given the capacity to be responsible for their own health situation,” Burrill said.

“I think the government was ill-advised to shut it down at the end of March and I think the primary move they need to make now is to reinstate it.”

Stay tuned

The government has scheduled a briefing later this afternoon with Strang and Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Shelley Deeks, an epidemiologist who is also a member of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).

The briefing is for journalists and will not be available to the public via livestream. The premier has said he does not plan to attend.

Deeks is expected to encourage adults who may have only received two doses of vaccine to get a booster shot to protect against the latest and most contagious variant.

Some Nova Scotia residents will soon be eligible for a fourth dose–people over 80, nursing home residents, immunocompromised individuals, and eventually First Nations people and seniors over the age of 70. Preparations to roll out those vaccines are underway.

Update

After this story was published, the province sent out a media release stating that Thursday’s 3:30 p.m. video conference with Strang and Deeks will now be live-streamed. It can be viewed via the provincial government’s website as well as through its Facebook page and YouTube channel.


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Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. In one sense, they are right. We SHOULDN’T need mandates to wear masks and take other precautions because we SHOULD be sensible, caring people. But it’s obvous that we DO need rules – or call them mandates if you wish. Once upon a time people spit on floors. Yes, they did. In hospitals. Until signs went up forbidding it. Will the next couple of generations think we were awful stupid to need to be told to wear masks and wash our hands, etc? Ending a mandate is not necessarily the same thing as ending the practices it upheld, but that was not the message.