a man sitting next to a bookcase
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang on a COVID briefing held via Zoom, Jan. 3, 2022.

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Overview of today’s cases
Vaccination
Testing
Potential exposure advisories

Nova Scotia announced 1,020 new cases of COVID-19 today, Monday, Jan. 3. The new cases are people who received a positive PCR test result from a Nova Scotia Health lab; it does not include people who tested positive using a take-home rapid (antigen) test.

By Nova Scotia Health zone, the new cases break down as:
• 664 Central
• 120 Eastern
• 104 Northern
• 132 Western

In a press release today, the Department of Health noted that:

There are 36 people in hospital with four in ICU. Since the Omicron variant was first identified in Nova Scotia, 31 people have been admitted to hospital with COVID-19. The remaining five cases were in hospital before Omicron arrived.

And at today’s COVID briefing, Premier Tim Houston said that:

There are 36 Nova Scotians in hospital with their admission related to COVID — five of those 36 were hospitalized before the Omicron outbreak. Of those who are in hospital due to COVID, four are in the ICU.

And the range of age for those in hospital is from 19 to 98 years old; the average age is 72. There’s nobody younger than 19 in hospital at this time.

Of those in hospital, 77.8% are vaccinated to some degree.

We’ve had over 9,000 cases confirmed by PCR tests in the last two weeks. For reference on hospitalizations, on May 30, 2021, we had 585 active cases, with 53 of those in hospital and 18 in the ICU.

This confused me, so I asked Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang about it; our exchange:

Bousquet: Dr. Strang, you keep saying that instead of daily case counts, we should be focusing on hospitalizations, but generally speaking, we’re not getting that data.

Over the two long holiday weekends, we didn’t get hospitalization data at all.

We’re not told what the vaccination status of those in hospital is.

We’re not told how long they’re in hospital — the release today said that 31 people have been hospitalized since Omicron, so are we to understand that no one’s left the hospital?

We have no idea about the age of the people in hospital, on and on.

It was helpful that the premier told us some of this information today, but can we expect to get this information on a daily basis, moving forward?

Strang: I’m not going to commit to daily but we are looking at how we can provide more robust hospital data as we move forward. We were developing our hospital surveillance systems — I hope that you can appreciate that in the midst of the Omicron [outbreak] we have people who have been working for two years, and I was trying to get some people a little bit of time away over the holiday period, so we only concentrated on what was critically essential. Now we’re back, and you can expect to see more hospitalization data moving forward.

Bousquet: That’s good to hear, thank you. On that, I just want to ask it more pointedly. Thirty-one people have entered the hospital because of COVID since Omicron — have none of them left, are there short stays and they’re being replaced [by others]? What’s the situation there?

Strang: Their average length of stay is — some of them are in the emergency room and aren’t admitted, others are in there for a few days, so there is some turnover. But our overall numbers are staying within our capacity. Again, we’ll have more robust breakdowns on that as we move forward.

I might seem obsessed with this, but it makes no sense. The press release says there are 36 people in hospital right now — “five of those 36 were hospitalized before the Omicron outbreak.” Houston reiterated that claim: “There are 36 Nova Scotians in hospital with their admission related to COVID — five of those 36 were hospitalized before the Omicron outbreak.” But Strang says some unknown number of people were in the hospital for short stays. So are hospitalization admission numbers actually much higher, but there’s turnover such that at any given time there are just 36 people in hospital? And if so, how many people have been hospitalized in total — 50? 100? 200?

I beat this drum over and over again because it gets to the heart of the public’s trust of Public Health.

At today’s briefing, Strang said he personally is leading a national charge to stop reporting daily case counts:

I brought that issue forward on my last national call, on Thursday. There was lots of support from the other Chief Medical Officers of Health around moving away from the daily case counts, but also doing that in a consistent way in terms of timing and what that looks like. And there was a commitment from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which chairs those meetings, to have this as an ongoing agenda item — we have two calls a week, so I look forward to that conversation unfolding with my colleagues across the country.

So we’ve gone from hyper-concentration on daily case counts to ignoring the daily case counts and concentrating on hospitalization numbers only — but those numbers are often missing completely, and apparently misleading in any event.

I don’t know what “the public” thinks about all this, but if Public Health wants to convince people to move away from daily case counts and instead to pay attention to the hospitalization figures as part of a broader campaign of accepting the much wider presence of COVID, albeit while asserting Omicron is milder, then it should give people the tools to make that assessment themselves — and that means reporting many details about hospitalizations that are simply missing now.

Ventilation in schools

Also at today’s briefing, Houston addressed the concerns of inadequate ventilation systems in schools:

My understanding is the 70-80% of the schools have pretty high quality HVAC systems, and there are some schools that have an older ventilation system… Public Health has not identified any issues with the ventilation systems in the schools. But that said… we’re looking at about 70 schools in number, but that’s an active file, to see what we can do in terms of setting up a system in the classrooms there. So it is happening in real time. I think there are some procurement discussions that are happening now as well. Will that be before the start of school? I don’t think it will be.


Vaccination

Because of the holiday weekend, there are no vaccination data reported today.

Appointments for boosters are now open to people 30 and over for whom 168 days have passed since their second shot.

Vaccination appointments for people 5 years of age and older can be booked here.

People in rural areas who need transportation to a vaccination appointment should contact Rural Rides, which will get you there and back home for just $5. You need to book the ride 24 hours ahead of time.


Testing

Yesterday, Nova Scotia Health labs completed 6,303 PCR tests, with a positivity rate of 16.2%. I have no idea how to assess that positivity rate, given the change in testing protocols.

Now, if you test positive with a rapid (antigen) test, you no longer will follow that up with a PCR test. Instead, you are assumed to definitely have COVID, and you and your household are to self-isolate as required.

But take-home rapid testing kits are no longer widely available — a limited number are available at the pop-up testing sites, but otherwise symptomatic people can schedule an appointment at the PCR testing sites, where they will be given a rapid test kit to take home (only those in high-risk categories will be given a PCR test).

Pop-up testing has been scheduled for the following sites:

Monday, Jan. 2
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Sackville Lions Club, 11am-3pm
Hubbards Area Lions Club, 11am-3pm

Tuesday, Jan. 3
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Alderney Gate, 4-6pm
Brooklyn Civic Centre, 11am-3pm
New Germany Legion, 11am-3pm

Wednesday, Jan. 4
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Alderney Gate, 11am-2pm
Bridgetown Volunteer Fire Department, 11am-3pm
Windsor Legion, 11am-3pm

Thursday, Jan. 5
Tatamagouche Legion, noon-4pm
Annapolis Royal Legion, 11am-3pm

Friday, Jan. 6
Chester Basin Fire Hall, 11am-3pm
Pictou Legion, 11am-3pm

You can volunteer to work at the pop-up testing sites here or here. No medical experience is necessary.


Potential exposure advisories

School-connected case notifications have ended. And while there has been no notification of a change in policy, despite the very high daily case counts, there have been no potential COVID exposure advisories issued over the last four days.

We’ve collected all the active advisories for potential COVID exposures on bus routes and flights here.

You can zoom in and click on the icons on the map below to get information about other sites.


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Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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4 Comments

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  1. Thank you, Tim, for trying to keep our officials honest and forthright.

    The case numbers really mean nothing at this point. Omicron is rampant. We are not testing enough to get a true picture of the number of cases. They would be much higher with more testing.

    I agree that the number of hospitalizations (that is, the true number) is much more important at this point.

  2. I’ve seen some data from Ontario that broke down the new case numbers in terms of Omicron cases vs. the – what do we call it, “normal” COVID?. Is there any value in having it broken down in that detail, or do we just assume all new cases are Omicron? It doesn’t really change the way we respond… but I’m interested in how the virus is manifesting.

  3. Thanks for following up on the hospitalization data. I was wondering about it myself today (in particular, I was wondering how current hospitalizations compared to past waves; the relative rates of growth of cases and of hospitalizations; and what the lag was between case counts and hospitalizations in past waves, whether that has changed with omicron, or if it has been long enough yet to draw any conclusions about hospitalization rates with our current wave), and so was trying to find information on the province’s covid-19 website. Historical information used to be available, but now it seems we can only access the latest daily update to the covid-19 dashboard (which, not that I’m an expert at information design, but is clearly incredibly poorly designed if the goal is to actually convey information to the public). I trust that the public health staff working in the trenches are truly swamped right now, but it makes no sense that information that was available on the provincial website previously is no longer available – removing that information would have required some time and work on someone’s part at some point.

  4. This push by Dr.Strang to move away from daily case counts concerns. While I acknowledge at some point, from a public health perspective we will need to shift to an endemic management strategy- I do not feel with the rise in cases we are in that position. Endemicity doesn’t mean covid will no longer exist but we will have tools to mitigate our risk to a comfortable level. However, as Omicron spreads exponentially we still need to be cautious.

    In Canada, 4.92% of our population is 4 and under. That is 1 882 571 kids who have no vaccine to take. It has been nearly two years of pandemic life and with having a 3 year old at home – my family needs more data not less so we can make informed choices about mitigating risk for our child.

    Also, I feel it would be beneficial for public health to share their plans are for an endemic management strategy. I feel we have a right to provide input and have a dialogue with public health what Nova Scotians are comfortable with.

    The (imo) avoidance of providing us data is quite problematic and has the potential to undermine collective confidence in public health – which of course would be quite counterproductive.

    What a time to be alive ????????