Premier Stephen McNeil and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang at the COVID-19 briefing, Tuesday, May 26, 2020. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

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A woman in her 80s who had an underlying medical condition has died after contracting the COVID-19 virus. She was a resident of the HRM but not a resident of Northwood or any other long-term care home.

The news came at today’s daily briefing by Dr. Robert Strang, the Province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, and Premier Stephen McNeil. Two new cases of COVID-19 were reported, at least one at Northwood, where there remain 15 active cases among staff and residents. The latest case involved a worker and Strang acknowledges Northwood is still in “outbreak” mode; 52 of the 59 COVID-related deaths in Nova Scotia were residents of Northwood.

Seven Nova Scotians with the virus are currently in hospital, three of those in ICU. Nine hundred and seventy-six people have now recovered; a total of 1,052 people tested positive. The lab did over 500 tests yesterday and the premier claims on a per capita basis, Nova Scotia is doing the second-highest number of tests among all provinces.

McNeil says he will tell Nova Scotians later this week when businesses ordered to shut down because of COVID-19 will be permitted to reopen.  He said licensed daycares are “on track” to resume operations June 8. The premier hinted the opening date for all businesses will be “sometime in early June.” Meanwhile, he announced a new government website called “Preparing to Reopen Nova Scotia.”  This “how to” website will contain information and guidelines to permit safe physical distancing for numerous types of businesses, including gyms, restaurants, barber shops, physio clinics, dental offices, and others.

“I know we are moving more slowly than other provinces but as Dr. Strang and I have said, this is not a race,” said McNeil. “Other provinces have opened parts of their economy and have either had to close up again or delay the rest of their opening plan because their cases of COVID continued to rise. We may end up with a similar problem but it won’t be because we went too fast, too soon…the last thing I want to do is to have to close down our economy again because we rushed to reopen. We will follow the advice of Public Health.”

Reporters asked Strang when nursing homes in the province — which have been closed to family visitors since March 8 — could be allowed to let residents share an outdoor visit with a family member at a two-meter distance. Temperatures are expected to soar to the high 20s over the next few days. It has been several weeks since any home other than Northwood and one unnamed facility has reported a single case of the virus.

Family members of long-term care residents have expressed concerns residents could be losing the will to live unless some type of personal contact can be restored. Strang responded by saying he had “begun” discussions this morning with the Department of Health and Wellness which is responsible for monitoring nursing homes.

“It would be premature to guess at where we are going to land in terms of a timeframe,” said Dr.Strang. “Fully recognizing the importance of the social interaction for residents in connection with their families. Knowing at the same time we have to maintain a high level of vigilance and safety to protect these people. We need to think our way through this, carefully, so that we balance the different risks.”

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

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