The Northwood nursing home on Gottingen Street in Halifax. Photo: Halifax Examiner Credit: Halifax Examiner / Tim Bousquet

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Thirty more people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, bringing the total to 579. Eleven people are currently hospitalized, four of them in ICUs; 176 people have fully recovered. Three have died.

During Thursday’s provincial update, Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, stated that there is “a lot of interest” in COVID-19 numbers at long term care facilities.

Beginning today, the province will now be reporting those numbers on a daily basis.

As of Wednesday evening, Northwood nursing home in Halifax had 59 cases and Dartmouth’s Admiral Long Term Care Centre had 11 people test positive with COVID-19.

That’s a total of 70 cases at just those two homes.

In a media release issued Thursday afternoon, the province said that as of Wednesday, seven licensed long-term care homes in Nova Scotia have COVID-19 cases.

That number includes 42 residents and 23 staff members who tested positive, a total of 65 cases across seven homes.

Asked about the discrepancy in the numbers, a spokesperson with the Department of Health and Wellness responded by email stating that the data reflects official numbers reported by the department as of yesterday.

“It reflects the number of licensed long-term facilities that currently have positive cases of COVID-19, including staff and residents at that point in time (April 15, 2020),” Heather Fairbairn said in her email. “It does not include recovered cases. Individual facilities may report case information differently.”

Thursday’s discussion did have a strong focus on long term care facilities, with Strang stating that protecting those residents and supporting their staff is a provincial priority.

“It’s a key part of our health system response plan. As we’ve talked about, we’ve started several weeks ago preventing visitors, preventing trips out from the facilities. We now have a comprehensive directive in place which deals with all the steps that long term care facilities need to take both to prevent cases and how they respond if they do get cases and even an outbreak,” Strang said.

“We are now providing masks and directed that all frontline health care providers, including those in long term care facilities, wear masks as a preventative step to minimize them transmitting the virus to their coworkers or to residents. It remains an area of concern, it remains a focus of attention as well as part of our response here in Nova Scotia.”

Strang also noted that one of the “very interesting things” they’ve seen at Northwood is even though 38 residents tested positive for COVID-19, some have no symptoms and others only experienced very mild symptoms. He said while all precautions must continue to be implemented, he called this “good news” for a population of known increased risk for severe disease.

McNeil also addressed the long term care concerns and the number of COVID-19 cases at Northwood, noting that “we know there is a cluster.” He said that they were reaching out to find out what the facility might require in terms of everything from cleaning to support staff.

“To be perfectly frank, it is the place that, I was going to say scares the heck out of me, but it terrifies me quite frankly that it ends up in a long term care facility. And we’re taking this very seriously and will do whatever we possibly can to protect the loved ones of those Nova Scotians and beyond who are feeling quite frightened about what is happening in a long term care facility. We are seeing this situation happen across the country and that’s not what we want here.”

At the end of Thursday’s briefing, McNeil also addressed the issue of temporary foreign workers and their importance to the province’s agricultural sector. He said before they get on a plane bound for Nova Scotia, all temporary foreign workers will be assessed for COVID-19 symptoms. Upon their arrival, they’ll be taken to a “number of large farms or other locations” where they’ll remain in quarantine for 14 days as per the guidelines set out in the province’s state of emergency. He encouraged Nova Scotians to be welcoming.

“When the 14 days are up they will go to work on our farms as they have every spring for many years. For many of these workers they’ve become part of our farming families. They play a very important role in the agricultural sector and it’s their hard work and the hard work of the men and women who are farming in this province to keep food on our tables and help to keep the economy moving and we are grateful that our temporary foreign workers are here.”

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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  1. Mystified why the author of this piece did not address the overwhelming and screamingly obvious question about employees moving between multiple institutions, the main cause of the spread of the virus to other residences. Not even a mention that this was just banned in Ontario. “On April 14, the Ontario government issued an emergency order prohibiting employees from working at multiple long-term care facilities.” Why the silence?

    Another critical issue is testing. Aggressive testing of employees and residents could also have a huge impact preventing the spread and a Quebec-level catastrophe.

    The premier and the public health officer are obviously avoiding even mentioning these topics, all the more reason for reporters to raise them.

    1. I believe working in different institutions was addressed at one of the recent media conferences by Dr. Strang.

      1. Perhaps, but there haven’t been any restrictions placed on this as there were in Ontario and Alberta. The measures they’ve adopted – mandatory masks for workers, more cleaning of surfaces, staff getting their temperature checked twice a day and being sent home if symptoms develop – are not going to be enough to contain the spread. It’s well known that asymptomatic carriers can spread the disease, that the effectiveness of masks is limited, and that in already short-staffed facilities cleaning targets are often not met. I’m sure prohibiting workers from working in more than one facility would prevent staffing challenges and would need some central coordination, but it seems to me the only way to prevent a province-wide catastrophe in nursing homes.