Jump to sections in this article:
New restrictions
Limits on testing
Overview of today’s cases
Vaccination/boosters
Demographics
Testing
Potential exposure advisories

In response to the Omicron outbreak, Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang today announced new COVID restrictions and new policies limiting testing.


Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang at the COVID briefing, Dec. 13, 2021. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

New restrictions

The enhanced restrictions are laid out in a press release:

Physical distance and mask requirements

  • physical distance of two metres (six feet) is required indoors and outdoors, except among people in the same household or a consistent social group of up to 10 people
  • masks are required in areas of workplaces where physical distance cannot be achieved, as well as common areas, areas where people are serving the public and areas with poor ventilation
  • people must be seated to remove their mask for eating or drinking; at movie theatres, they must go to a designated area for eating and drinking
  • all other mask requirements for indoor public places remain, including wearing them when seated for other activities
  • individuals, businesses and organizations all have responsibility for ensuring mask requirements are followed and can all be subject to enforcement action.

Gathering limits

  • indoor and outdoor informal gatherings, typically at home, are limited to 10 people from the same household or consistent social group; physical distance and proof of full vaccination are not required; masks are not required except in indoor public places
  • only virtual events are allowed – there are no in-person events such as festivals, special events (including receptions), sports games or tournaments, or arts and culture performances
  • a limit of 10 participants indoors and 25 outdoors applies to sports practices and training; physical distance is not required, and masks are recommended when possible indoors and outdoors; spectators are not allowed
  • a limit of 10 participants indoors and 25 outdoors applies to professional and amateur arts and culture rehearsals and virtual performances; professionals must have a plan for their workplace; physical distance is not required, and masks are recommended when possible indoors and outdoors; spectators and competitions are not allowed
  • Nova Scotia children ages 11 and younger continue to be restricted from participating in sports and arts and culture events outside the province
  • gathering limits of 25 per cent of capacity to a maximum of 50 people indoors and outdoors apply to social gatherings, regular faith services, wedding ceremonies, funeral ceremonies and their associated visitation, movie theatres, meetings and training that are hosted by a recognized business or organization, including faith organizations
  • regular in-person faith services can only have one person singing; no choirs or congregational singing are allowed
  • drive-in regular faith services are allowed with no limit on the number of vehicles; the informal gathering limit applies inside each vehicle
  • indoor and outdoor informal wedding ceremonies and faith gatherings, typically at home, are limited to 10 people from the same household or consistent social group, plus one officiant; physical distance and proof of full vaccination are not required; masks are not required except in indoor public places
  • indoor and outdoor funeral ceremonies with a maximum of 10 people, plus officiant and funeral home staff, are allowed without proof of full vaccination but masks and physical distance are required; proof of full vaccination is still required for any visitation
  • day camps can operate with groups of 15 campers, staff and volunteers following day camp guidelines.

Businesses

  • places like retail businesses, malls, museums, libraries and recreation and leisure businesses and organizations can operate at 50 per cent capacity with physical distance; some examples under recreation and leisure include dance and music lessons, climbing facilities, escape rooms, indoor play places, arcades, golf, shooting ranges and dog training
  • fitness and recreation facilities can operate at 50 per cent capacity with physical distance; personal training is allowed with as much physical distance as possible
  • personal services like hair salons can operate at the maximum capacity possible with physical distancing but cannot offer services that require removing masks
  • food establishments and liquor-licensed establishments can operate at 50 per cent capacity, they must have physical distance between tables; barriers may only be used to achieve 50 per cent capacity but not exceed it; there is a limit of 10 people per table; they must stop dine-in service at 11 p.m. and close by midnight; takeout, drive-thru and delivery can operate later; only one performer is allowed
  • Casino Nova Scotia and First Nations gaming centres can operate at 50 per cent capacity; people playing VLTs must be at least two metres (6 feet) apart; these gaming establishments must stop dine-in service at 11 p.m. and close by midnight
  • activities like cards, darts, pool, bowling and karaoke follow the rules for the setting where they take place, either in licensed establishments or recreation and leisure businesses
  • bingo follows the rules for licensed establishments when in that setting; bingo in non-licensed establishments is a special event which is not allowed.

Long-term care

  • a limit of two visitors at a time with long-term care residents; it must be the same two visitors all the time
  • it is strongly recommended that visitors have a rapid test within 24 hours of the visit if possible
  • visitors can have quick close contact like a hug but then need to stay physically distanced for the rest of the visit
  • the requirement for visitors to wear masks and be fully vaccinated, except for end-of-life visits, remains
  • even if they are fully vaccinated, residents can only leave the facility for medical appointments or for a drive in a facility or visitor’s vehicle with no stops and no contact with other people outside the facility
  • only residents who are eligible and have had a booster dose can access service providers for recreational activities and personal services like hairstyling
  • residents can attend regular faith services in the facility; the room can have 25 per cent capacity to a maximum of 10 people; only one singer; no choirs or congregational singing are allowed
  • if possible, residents should be in consistent groups for dining and activities.


A woman gets swabbed at one of the rapid testing sites. Photo: Lisa Barrett

Limits on testing

“I want to address some concerning behaviour that’s been reported from staff and volunteers at our various testing and distribution sites,” said Strang. “There have been numerous, numerous reports of people being physically and verbally abusive, making physical threats and even stealing test kits. This is just not acceptable.

Strang then went on to explain the new testing protocols, effective Dec. 27. PCR testing will only be available to people who have symptoms and are in any of the following categories:
• are close contacts
• are at an increased risk for severe disease
• live in congregate living settings
• are integral to the health care system

Everyone else — including those with symptoms who aren’t in one of the above groups — will be given the rapid tests. Those who get a positive rapid test result will no longer be given a follow-up PCR test, but will instead be assumed to have COVID.

Citing the limited supply, and because the rapid tests will be given to symptomatic people, that means the rapid tests will no longer be widely available to everyone else. The libraries have already mostly run out of the rapid tests, and they will not be resupplied. Nor will the pop-up testing centres continue.


Overview

Nova Scotia announced 522 new cases of COVID-19 today, Tuesday, Dec. 21. By Nova Scotia Health zone, the new cases break down as:
• 382 Central
• 59 Eastern
• 38 Northern
• 43 Western

There are new outbreaks at two hospitals — the Halifax Infirmary and St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish. At each site, fewer than five patients have tested positive.

There are now 10 people in hospital with the disease, three of whom are in ICU.

Because of the backlog in data gathering by Public Health, I don’t have active case or recovery numbers, but as I see it, those aren’t so important — active cases are self-isolating and so aren’t a further threat to anyone else, and “recovery” only means they’re no longer contagious and not necessarily that they’re, er, recovered.


Vaccination

Premier Tim Houston at the COVID briefing, Dec. 7, 2021. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

Yesterday, 8,953 doses of vaccine were administered:
• 1,359 first doses
• 296 second doses
• 7,298 third doses

In total, there have been 1,708,855 doses of vaccine administered, which break down as:
• 64,093 people with only the first dose
• 702,479 people with the second dose but not the third
• 90,369 people with three doses

By end of day yesterday, 88.2% of the entire population (including babies, toddlers, etc.) have received at least one dose of vaccine, as follows:
• 6.6% have received only one dose
• 72.3% have two doses but not three
• 9.3% have three doses
• 11.8% are unvaccinated

At today’s COVID briefing, Premier Tim Houston strongly criticized “other jurisdictions” — he didn’t name them, but he clearly meant Ontario — for their “Hunger Games” approach to making booster shots available.

“For [Nova Scotia], we stick to NACI [the National Advisory Committee on Immunization], and NACI’s recommendation is six months [after the second shot] — that’s the optimal time to get the booster,” said Houston.

“There are some areas where they’re at three months,” he continued. “Some areas where it’s just a free-for-all — you want your booster, go get it. Well, that could be here— you’re 18 years old and you got your second dose the day before, you want your booster, go get it. So obviously, you can see how these types of these types of situations can can lead to what I referred to as The Hunger Games because I read that’s actually what it feels like in some areas.

“We’re trying to be methodical, where we’re respecting NACI; if NACI changes, we’ll change.”

In practical terms, that means boosters are only available currently for people who are immunocompromised, frontline health care workers, or over 60 for whom 168 days have passed since their second shot.

But starting Thursday, booster appointments will be open to people 50 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.

There are drop-in (no appointment necessary) vaccination clinics for anyone 12 years old or older to get their first or second dose of Pfizer at the following site this week:

• Cole Harbour Public Library (51 Forest Hills Parkway, Dartmouth), Tuesday, Dec. 21 from noon to 7pm

There are drop-in (no appointment necessary) vaccination clinics for anyone 5 years old or older to get their first or second dose of Pfizer the following sites this week:

• St. FX University, Keating Centre Conference Room (1100 Convocation Blvd., Antigonish), Wednesday, Dec. 22 from 10am to 3pm.

• Centre 200 (481 George St., Sydney), Thursday, Dec. 23 from 10am to 3pm

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.


Demographics

As of this writing, the provincial dashboard has not been updated. It has perhaps (I don’t know) been abandoned. When I learn more, I’ll report it.


Testing

Yesterday, Nova Scotia Health labs completed 10,201 PCR tests, with a positivity rate of 5.1%. This does not include the antigen tests administered at the pop-up testing sites.

The last round of pop-up testing has been scheduled for the following sites:

Wednesday
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Alderney Gate, 10am-2pm
Lebrun Recreation Centre, 10am-5pm

Thursday
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm

Friday
Alderney Gate, 10am-2pm

You can also get PCR testing at the Nova Scotia Health labs by going here. Appointments can be made for the IWK, or for various locations in each of the health zones (appointments may not be available at each site).


Potential exposure advisories

There were school-connected case notifications issued yesterday for seven schools:
• G.R. Saunders Elementary School, Stellarton
• Riverside Education Centre, Milford
• Astral Drive Junior High, Cole Harbour
• Brookhouse Elementary, Dartmouth
• Madeline Symonds Middle School, Hammonds Plains
• Rocky Lake Junior High, Bedford
• New Germany Rural High School, New Germany

Additionally there were several potential COVID exposure advisories.

Note: it appears Public Health is very behind on contact tracing and therefore on the potential exposure advisories.

We’ve collected all the active advisories for potential COVID exposures on bus routes and flights here. I’ll be adding schools to the map tonight.

The updated potential COVID exposure advisory map is below. Blue school icons denote school-connected case notifications. Yellow caution signs are “precaution notifications” (fully vaccinated people need take no action beyond looking for symptoms and getting tested), and red coronavirus icons mean everyone must self-isolate and get tested. You can zoom in and click on the icons to get information about each site.


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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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  1. Some things are very concerning here. Numbers will go down probably because we do less testing but is that really the way to go? It seems that someone who is a close contact gets a PCR test but the original person only gets the inaccurate rapid test. You know test, test, test was always the motto, but I guess no more. Obviously the rapid tests were way over used and oversold since they are barely 50 percent accurate for asymptomatic people and not much more for those with symptoms ( I would blame Lisa Barrett for overselling this). But anyway numbers may come down around the new year if we are anything like South Africa (though it is summer there).

    Also it is concerning that Houston insisted that we were not doing the NFLD thing of 5.5 months before a booster and yet that is exactly what we are doing – 168 days is 5.5 months. Laughable really.

    1. I would imagine the original person infected would need to be a confirmed PCR positive case. But I agree about the reduced testing being worrisome.

      I wouldn’t put the blame on Dr. Barrett. Everybody has been overselling the rapid tests. More important than the accuracy though, is the sensitivity and specificity of the test. That’s what really tells you how good it is. I’ve done some back of the envelope calculations, but I can’t share as they involve a number of assumptions and I’m by no means qualified to put those numbers in the public sphere. Anyway, I’m not putting much faith in them either.