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

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Northwood did everything it could to limit the spread of COVID-19, said Nova Scotia’s chief public health officer, even as the province announced three more deaths at the facility.

“It’s tragic,” Dr. Robert Strang said during Tuesday’s COVID-19 update.

“It breaks my heart when I see the numbers every day, and I really feel for families and individuals, but I want Nova Scotians to understand that the healthcare system has and will continue to take this circumstance very seriously and do what’s necessary and what can be done to support Northwood.”

The three new deaths due to COVID-19 at Northwood announced on Tuesday bring the provincial total to 41. Thirty-five of those people were Northwood residents — 85% of the province’s deaths.

The province also reported six new confirmed cases on Tuesday, bringing the total to 991. Of those 991, 652 are recovered. Six people are in hospital, two of them in intensive care.

There have been confirmed cases at 11 licensed long-term care homes and unlicensed seniors’ facilities in Nova Scotia, involving 245 residents and 113 staff.

Strang further broke down those numbers on Tuesday.

Of the 245 residents in all the long-term care facilities who’ve been infected, 46 have recovered and 39 have died. Of the 113 staff in those facilities who have contracted COVID-19, 61 have recovered. None have died. All of the active long-term care cases are now at Northwood. There are 160 active cases at Northwood among residents, and 49 among staff. Two other facilities have active cases among staff — one person at each.

“Northwood aside, we’ve had several outbreaks in long-term care facilities that we’ve been able to manage, limit the spread. And in other facilities where we have sporadic cases, there hasn’t been substantive spread,” Strang said.

“I think that’s testament to, in general, the work that’s happened in our long-term care sector and the plans that have been prepared and put in place.”

Those plans were evidently not enough at Northwood, but Strang steadfastly defended the facility and the government’s response.

“There’s no question at all around the tragic and very serious situation at Northwood, but I want Nova Scotians to know that Northwood and the healthcare system in the provincial government, that all appropriate steps have been taken to bring that situation under control,” Strang said.

Northwood is unique, he said. It’s the largest facility of its kind east of Montreal, with almost 600 “very frail and elderly” residents and 400 staff. Because it’s an older facility, many of the rooms are shared rooms, which makes it easier for a virus to spread.

“Once COVID-19 was introduced, it was able to spread significantly throughout Northwood before any cases were detected and before we even were aware there was an outbreak going on,” Strang said.

“But I have to give Northwood credit. They have taken all the steps that they could’ve taken in preparation.”

The facility implemented a pandemic plan on March 12. They required workers to wear masks on April 6, before any directive. The first case among staff was detected on April 5, and among residents on April 7. They’ve always had enough personal protective equipment to manage the outbreak, Strang said.

“Because of what we now know about asymptomatic spread, which wasn’t as well recognized and understood even a month ago or six weeks ago, the virus had gained a foothold in that facility,” Strang said.

The Halifax Examiner planned to ask Strang exactly when he became aware of asymptomatic spread, but was not provided an opportunity.

Premier Stephen McNeil was asked twice whether he’d launch a public inquiry on the situation at Northwood, something the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union is calling for. He was noncommittal.

“We’re working very hard with Northwood, with unions across the province to ensure that we deal with COVID-19 in our province and we’ll continue to focus on that,” McNeil said.

Asked whether the public would be able to watch the proceedings of any review of the response to the pandemic, McNeil said he’s focused on “ensuring that we continue to chase this virus down all across the province and particularly in Northwood.”

“We’ll continue to put all of our energy and effort in ensuring that we continue to work with the hard-working frontline people at Northwood, those that have come in to support them, to ensure that we provide the best care possible for those residents,” McNeil said.

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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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  1. Welcome back, Zane. Have you signed up for the transportation beat, because one could drive a truck through Strang’s and McNeil’s explanations/excuses/alibis?

  2. We’ll continue to put all of our energy and effort in ensuring that we continue to work with the hard-working frontline people at Northwood, those that have come in to support them, to ensure that we provide the best care possible for those residents,” McNeil said.
    As for paying them a decent wage? Not so much.