Premier Tim Houston (in the media room) and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang (remotely) at the COVID briefing on Jan. 29, 2022. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

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Today’s numbers
Vaccination
Testing

Premier Tim Houston and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang hosted a COVID briefing today that was more disjointed than informative, more befuddling than calming.

I don’t say that lightly. Nearly two years into the pandemic, Strang must be exhausted. And the Omicron wave is particularly vexing, upturning Public Health’s messaging while overrunning the health care and hospital systems. I understand that these are trying times, and that no matter what Strang and Houston say, they’ll upset a lot of people. I sympathize.

Still, there’s great anxiety over the start of in-person school. It called for clarity from the provincial leadership — exactly what was lacking today

For the past week, my inbox has been filled with hundreds of parents expressing some variety of this: “my school says parents and teachers are not allowed to notify other parents about COVID cases… WTAF?” One parent told me today that her school contacted her to demand that a notification about a school case she had posted on social media be taken down.

Houston addressed that concern in his opening statement:

There’s still confusion around contact tracing. So to be very clear, nobody is restricted from telling anyone that they have COVID. We have COVID. You can tell whoever you want that you have COVID. That’s absolutely, of course, the case. People can share what they want to share about themselves or their families in any way they want.

When I live-tweeted this, people responded with comments like “he’s lying!” and worse.

Strang provided a more nuanced explanation of contract tracing in schools in his opening remarks:

The second question I’m seeing often is about contact tracing, and we’re seeing many parent groups attempt contact tracing on their own.

While I appreciate that people want to help and feel that the information is important, there really is no additional benefit in school settings to have that contact tracing. Relying on being notified by government or someone else official about being a close contact — whether in schools or elsewhere — it gives people a false sense of security. COVID is all around us right now, and it’s possible that we will be exposed any time we’re out and around people.

That’s why we all need to focus on being cautious and using personal protective measures, as well as closely monitoring our own health, staying home when we develop new cold or flu symptoms. That’s how we protect each other.

And then again, the risks of relying on being notified and then the false assumption that if you’re not notified, you’re somehow not at risk, just don’t work anymore with the wide spread of Omicron. I recognize that this is a significant psychological shift, and I understand why it is creating concern and excitement for some parents and teachers.

But the reality is that the advice will be the same, whether you’ve been identified as a close contact of a case or not. It will always come back to follow public health measures to keep yourself and others safe. Stay home when you’re sick and test as appropriate and get vaccinated with the full series and booster doses when you’re eligible.

Parents are asked to follow whatever procedures are in place to report an absence in school; those procedures have been in place well before COVID, and if they want to notify the teacher or other parents that their child has COVID, they can. If teachers want to, they can notify parents and guardians about their own COVID status. But schools and teachers are not expected to notify families if a parent tells them of a positive case in one of their children.

Later in the briefing, reporter Ed Halverson had this exchange with Strang:

Havlerson: Dr. Strang, you mentioned that teachers are not required to notify if a student or their parent lets them know that there’s a positive test. That’s different than the teacher or the principal not being allowed to share that information… Why are teachers and principals not allowed to share that information?

Strang: Well, in fact, that is misinformation that’s been put out there by various groups that there’s somehow a ban or a gag order. That’s not true.

However, the school system and individual teachers need to be aware that there’s there’s legislation that governs how somebody else’s personal health information is actually disclosed. It’s fine if you, as a parent, choose to disclose your or your child’s personal health information. It’s fine if a teacher chooses to disclose that. But there’s all sorts of issues when people start disclosing other people’s health information. Those are things that the school system needs to take very seriously, and we take it extremely seriously in the health system. I would warn people who are out there potentially using social media, disclosing other people’s health information, that they need to be very careful about how they do that.

Halverson: I have to contradict what you’re saying there because we have a letter from the principal in which I can quote the principal saying ‘I am also not permitted to communicate with classes or with staff when positive cases occur.’

Strang: We’ve had discussions in the last couple of days with my colleagues in education and that has been clarified and that is not actually the appropriate phrasing and language that has been most recently shared with school administration.

No doubt both Strang and Houston have been getting deluged with the same sort of messages I’ve been getting from parents telling us their schools are telling them they can’t report when there are positive cases in schools.

Asked about this quite obviously true claim, Strang first attacked people on social media for spreading “misinformation,” and then when confronted with an actual letter from an actual principal stating the “misinformation” as school policy, Strang said that messaging has been “clarified.” This was 48 minutes into the briefing, and the last question, with the briefing abruptly ended right then.

Given the anxiety and confusion among the public, a clear statement about what school policy is should have been stated right at the beginning of the briefing, and if schools have been using inappropriate “phrasing and language” to parents, that should have been stated clearly as well, and not in response to a question 48 minutes into the briefing.

It didn’t help that, just before Halverson’s question, Strang told reporter Paul Bacon that “We will be continuing to provide rapid test kits in daycares under the same parameters that are just identified as for schools.”

A half-hour after the briefing, communications staff sent reporters this correction:

Dr. Strang made an error in one of his responses. The Test to Protect program is in schools, not daycares.

Hey, we all make mistakes. And, as I say, these are trying times. But of all briefings, today’s was the one that most required clarity and straight talk to parents from Strang and Houston.

They failed to deliver.

Today’s numbers

Three more Nova Scotians have died from COVID-19. The deceased all lived in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone; they were:
• a man in his 60s
• a man in his 80s
• a woman in her 80s
In total, 125 Nova Scotians have died from COVID.

There are now 83 people in hospital who were admitted because of COVID symptoms and are still in COVID units, 12 of whom are in ICU. Those 83 range in age from 29 to 100 years old, and the average age is 69. The average hospital stay is 6.5 days.

Additionally, there are:
• 66 people who were admitted to hospital for other reasons but tested positive for COVID during the admissions screening or who were admitted for COVID but no longer require specialized care
• 107 people in hospital who contracted COVID in the hospital outbreaks

The 83 people now hospitalized because of COVID and still in COVID units have the following vaccination status:
• 12 (14.5%) have had 3 doses
• 51 (61.4%) have had 2 doses
• 3 (3.6%) have had 1 dose
• 17 (20.5%) are unvaccinated
Note: only 9.3% of the entire population is unvaccinated.

Nova Scotia additionally announced 527 new cases of COVID-19 today. 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:
• 233 Central
• 68 Eastern
• 40 Northern
• 74 Western

Based on PCR test results, Public Health estimates that there are 5,374 active cases in the province; the actual number is undoubtedly much higher.

Hospital outbreaks

There is a new outbreak in a ward at Cape Breton Regional Hospital. Fewer than 5 patients have tested positive.

Long-term care outbreaks

There are seven new outbreaks in long-term care:
• North Queens Nursing Home, Caledonia — 3 staff
• Shoreham Village, Chester — 6 staff, 3 residents
• Oakwood Terrace, Dartmouth — 4 staff, 10 residents
• Saint Vincent’s Nursing Home, Halifax — 14 staff, 6 residents
• Wynn Park Villa, Truro — 4 staff
• Cedarstone Enhanced Care, Truro — 2 staff, 1 resident
• Harbourstone, Sydney — 3 staff

Due to staffing shortages at nursing homes, the province today issued a plea for “health care workers not currently in the workforce” to fill a variety of “temporary, short-term and long-term paid positions” in the homes.


Vaccination

Yesterday, 16,563 doses of vaccine were administered:
• 497 first doses
• 242 second doses
• 15,824 third doses.

By the end of the day yesterday, 90.7% of the population have received at least one dose of vaccine:
• 7.5% with 1 dose only
• 51.2% with 2 doses but not 3
• 32.0% with 3 doses
• 9.3% unvaccinated

Appointments for boosters are open for people 18 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.

There are many drop-in Pfizer vaccine clinics scheduled, several for kids five years old and older.

Additionally, the province has scheduled several appointment-based vaccination clinics for booster shots.


Testing

Nova Scotia Health labs completed 4,232 PCR tests yesterday, with a positivity rate of 12.5%.

If you test positive with a rapid (antigen) test, 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.

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

Wednesday
Halifax Central Library, noon-7pm
Alderney Gate, 10am-2pm
Windsor Legion, 11am-3pm
Dr Carson & Marion Murray Community Centre (Springhill), 11am-3pm

Thursday
Halifax Central Library, noon-7pm
Enfield Fire Hall, 11am-3pm
Tatamagouche Legion, 11am-3pm
Arichat OLA Parish Hall, 11am-3pm

Friday
Halifax Central Library, 11am-6pm
Chester Basin Fire Department, 11am-3pm
Pictou Legion, 11am-3pm
St. Peter’s Lions Club, 11am-3pm

Saturday
Halifax Central Library, 11am-6pm
Alderney Gate, 10am-2pm
Glace Bay Legion, 11am-3pm

Sunday
Halifax Central Library, 11am-6pm
Knights of Columbus (KOC) Hall (New Waterford), 11am-3pm

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


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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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5 Comments

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  1. I don’t understand. Dr. Strang said several times during yesterday’s briefing that “Relying on being notified by government or someone else official about being a close contact — whether in schools or elsewhere — it gives people a false sense of security.” and “COVID is everywhere” as excuses for why contact tracing in schools is not necessary. What happened to the personal responsibility involved in protecting vulnerable/elderly/immuno-compromised family members who may live with you, or are in your bubble. If your child is exposed in their classroom, wouldn’t you need to know about it, in order to keep them away from the above mentioned folks? I can’t get my head around the logic of those excuses. If he had just said, we can’t handle it, there’s just too many cases, we need help etc. it would be understandable.

  2. Misinformation seems to be everywhere – not just online. Thank you, Tim and the other reporters, for trying to get clear, understandable information for your readers. As someone who gets rapid tested at least once a week, I can tell you that you hear some interesting things just waiting in line for the test sites to open. I’ve been told (by 811), that if there is no fever there is no Covid. I’ve heard others say that their employers has told them to come to work – positive test and/or close contact be damned – but to double mask or they won’t be paid. I also heard one person say that his spouse, who works in health care, was told to come to work even though she had been in close contact with more than one person who had tested positive via PCR based solely on a negative rapid test. We all know that PCR is the gold standard. Rapid tests definitely have their place – I rely on them and use their results to decide what I will and won’t do – but they are not as accurate. I have accepted that eventually everyone will get some variant of the original virus, but misinformation can cause anyone to throw in the towel and stop doing what is being asked. Keep up the good work, Tim. Your Covid articles are so much more informative than those found in more main stream media; I have been telling anyone who wants more information to come to this site.

  3. Your continuing commentary is appreciated TIm, not seeing much critical journalism over at the Mother Corp these days.

    Tim Houston is now blatantly saying one thing while doing another, shutting down functions of the provincial gov’t due to “safety concerns”, alone on stage while Strang hides in his home office, meanwhile, classrooms of 30 plus at best partially vaccinated kids are declared safe. Not a good look.

    Teachers were absolutely issued a gag order with the threat of disciplinary action on the subject of case reporting in schools. Strang’s response to Ed Halverson’s question suggests it’s time for him to quit.

  4. Your commentary is right on! Messaging is confused and therefore confusing. On the one hand, “close contacts” in schools don’t have to isolate. Instead, you monitor for symptoms. On the other, you can be contagious a day or so before symptoms show up. Is that not a recipe for spread? Are the rules the same in health care? retail? Restaurants? Hair salons? Who knows? Once messaging breaks down, people generally stop listening and go back to business as usual. Meantime, Covid is reaching the vulnerable and people are dying.
    Keep up the good reporting, Tim!

  5. That was a perfect description of what happened today. A lot of hard work goes into such excellent reporting no doubt. It’s appreciated. Happy to be a subscriber.