Dr. Robert Strang speaks at the Friday, June 5 COVID-19 update. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia Credit: Communications Nova Scotia

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With no new COVID-19 cases announced Friday, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health is loosening up the rules to let communities hold drive-in high school graduation celebrations.

Dr. Robert Strang announced the plan during Friday’s COVID-19 briefing with Premier Stephen McNeil after both expressed their condolences to the family of the 61st person to die with the disease, announced on Thursday — a man in his 70s in the central health zone.

The province has now had a total of 1,058 confirmed cases, and 997 people have recovered. The numbers would suggest there are no active cases left in Nova Scotia, but there are three people in the hospital, two of whom are in intensive care. There are also two cases still at Northwood: one resident and one worker.

Asked about the statistical discrepancy, Strang said the numbers periodically need “reconciliation,” and sometimes there are corrections.

He highlighted the testing numbers — 773 completed June 4, and 44,477 total negative results.

“We’re testing lots of people, we’re not seeing positive cases, all of which is exactly what we wanted to have and it’s very good news,” he said.

Drive-in celebrations planned, but that doesn’t mean big parties

McNeil said high schools will be holding ceremonies for students where they hand out diplomas with policies in place to ensure they’re safe.

Separately, Strang said community organizations have been asking if they can hold celebrations to recognize graduates.

From June 8 to June 30, Strang has made an exception to his health protection order to allow drive-in celebrations under strict conditions. Those conditions are posted online and were laid out in a news release Friday afternoon:

All non-school based, community celebrations of graduates must be held by a recognized business, municipality or community organization (like a club, association, society, volunteer group, faith-based group), and the local municipality, police and fire departments and EHS must be informed and supportive of the planned event.

Conditions under the exemption include:
— attendees must arrive in a vehicle
— all passengers in the vehicle must be from a single household or household bubble
— graduates can be out of their vehicle to do things like cross a stage or take part in a parade of graduates as long as physical distance (two metres or six feet) is maintained between all graduates while they are out of their vehicle
— organizers must communicate clearly with attendees in advance and ensure other public health protocols, like physical distancing, are followed

Strang additionally recommended that people bring hand sanitizer and use non-medical masks when outside of their vehicles, and said anyone who’s sick or at risk shouldn’t go to the events

“I want to be clear that these are organized events. This is not an exemption for individual grad parties,” Strang said.

“Individual parties need to be held following the rules around 10 people or less, maintaining social distance.”

Asked what he’d say to families that don’t have a vehicle, Strang said there are local car dealerships willing to provide vehicles for those families.

“I think that’s an issue that’s already seeing communities stepping up, recognizing that as a challenge and finding ways within their communities to support that.”

Protests are a constitutionally-protected right, says Strang

Strang said he wanted to bring up protests again, with more planned this weekend. (There was a vigil planned for Friday evening at 5 p.m.)

“We want all Nova Scotians to be safe and that is our focus,” Strang said. “But we also know that people have the right to organize and to make their opinions known. That is also a critically important function of our society.”

Strang said he and McNeil fully support the message behind the protests. (The pair was also criticized for singling out the Prestons as a COVID-19 hotspot in an early April news conference.)

“Demonstrations and protests, people have a right to that under our constitution. We need to allow those to happen, but what we’re asking for is that they happen in a way that respects safety,” Strang said.

He asked people going to protests to maintain physical distancing, said organizers should plan for physical distancing, and he “highly” recommended that anyone going to a protest wear a non-medical mask. And like the grad celebrations, no one should go to a protest if they’re not feeling well, Strang said.

“Nova Scotians who want to participate need to respect that these are creating an additional risk of COVID-19 and you have to respect your fellow Nova Scotians and protest in a manner that is safe and does not create a substantive risk of reintroduction and a spark of a COVID-19 outbreak.”

Long-term care homes could soon reopen to visitors

As the province reopens, families are still restricted from visiting their loved ones in Nova Scotia’s long-term care facilities, but Strang suggested that could change soon.

“We are working at ways we can start to create visits between families and residents in long-term care,” Strang said.

“We hope as early as next week to start to bring something forward to cautiously allow that visitation to happen. In the meantime, we certainly encourage people to continue to use video chats, phone calls and other ways to stay connected.”

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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