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Back to school
Change in restrictions
Overview of today’s cases
Vaccination
Testing
Potential exposure advisories

Premier Tim Houston at the COVID briefing, Jan. 5, 2022. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia


Nova Scotia schools will go to online learning next, with a return to in-person classes on Monday, Jan. 17. This is a shift from plans announced just last week that would’ve seen schools open this coming Monday, Jan. 10.

Premier Tim Houston made that announcement at a COVID briefing today, and explained:

This one-week delay was an extremely difficult decision. The best place for our children is in school. We’ve been here before, and our own history in Nova Scotia with COVID shows that our schools are safe. That said, we believe that with this one week, government can take steps to increase public confidence even further… with this one week, while online learning is happening, we will work to address four themes of concerns that we’ve heard.

The first is around ventilation. There are 71 schools across the province that can do with increased improvements to the ventilation systems. This issue has been sitting on desks for years. We’re going to pick it up and deal with it right now. Yesterday, we authorized the purchase of ventilation units for classrooms in those 71 schools. We’ve been told that many, if not all, of these systems can be in place late next week.

The second, the second issue is around masks. It’s my hope that when children show up for in-person learning, there are three-ply masks available to every one of them and possibly even sitting on their desks waiting for them. So we use this time to to try to get that done.

The third theme of concern is around testing and test kits. Tests are in high demand. Nationally, they’re hard to come by, but we’re working on it. It’s my hope that a new shipment of tests that was ordered quite some time ago arrives and is distributed to schools and available and waiting for free for each and every student when they arrive at school. Hopefully a week from now we’ll have we’ll have more clarity on that.

And the fourth theme of concern that we heard is just around the communication procedures. So we’ll use this additional week to firm up and properly communicate procedures for things like who to notify when there’s an illness.

There will be COVID in schools. Everyone should take precautions knowing that there’s lots of COVID around the province. But these steps that the government will take will make the safe school system even safer.

So teachers and staff, you will be safe at work.

Parents, your children will be safe at school.

And students, you will be returning to a wonderful in-person learning environment surrounded by people that have your best interests at heart.

Those are all true. The best place for our children is in school and government will do its work on these four items and our schools will be open.

In a press release, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union said it supports the delay to in-person classes:

The NSTU supports today’s announcement by government to delay the return of in-person learning by one week. The union representing Nova Scotia’s teachers and education specialists says it is looking forward to continue working with the province as it takes steps to provide additional layers of protections in classrooms over the next 10 days to improve school safety and support operational viability.”

“Today’s announcement is welcomed by teachers and specialists whose main priority is always the safety and wellbeing of students and their families,” says NSTU President Paul Wozney. “We understand the challenging decisions public officials are currently being asked to make and recognize the various perspectives they need to balance. That said, over the next week we will closely monitor the situation to ensure the proper policies are implemented and equipment is delivered to protect our vulnerable populations learning and working inside schools.”

Wozney added: “I know teachers will work extremely hard to meet the needs of students under these circumstances, which, while less than ideal, will help keep children and staff safe. I also want to thank Minister Druhan for keeping the lines of communications open with the NSTU and for her commitment to engaging with teachers in the decision making process.”


Change in restrictions

The most recent round of restrictions, which were scheduled to end this week, have been extended to Jan. 31.

There have also been changes to the self-isolation requirement for those who test positive for COVID. Starting this Friday, the changes are:

The new requirements are determined by a person’s age, household situation and vaccination status:

Fully vaccinated person or a child 11 years old or younger

  • must isolate for a minimum of seven days following the onset of symptoms or a positive test if asymptomatic
  • can leave isolation after Day 7 if there are no symptoms or symptoms are improving and there has been no fever for at least 24 hours

Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated person or a person who is immunocompromised

  • must isolate for a minimum of 10 days
  • can leave isolation after Day 10 if they no longer have symptoms or symptoms are improving and there has been no fever for at least 24 hours.

Isolation requirements apply regardless of the type of test taken (rapid test or lab-based PCR test).

Additionally, there have been changes to the protocols for those who are close contacts of people who have tested positive, as follows:

If a fully vaccinated person or child who is 11 or younger is identified as a close contact of a positive case:

  • they should get tested 72 hours after exposure and watch for symptoms
  • if they take a PCR test, no further testing is needed unless they develop symptoms
  • if they take a rapid test, they should do a second rapid test 48 hours after the first.

Until they get their first negative test result, they should:

  • stay at home except to go to school, work or child care
  • work from home as much as possible
  • practise physical distancing when at work or school, including while eating or drinking
  • wear a properly fitted, three-layer mask
  • only do essential activities such as getting groceries or prescriptions if there is nobody else who can do it for them.

For all others, including immunocompromised people who haven’t had a booster:

  • they must immediately isolate for seven days
  • they can leave isolation after two negative rapid tests done on Day 6 and Day 8 or after one negative PCR test done on Day 6 or 7
  • if symptoms develop, they must remain isolated and get tested.


Overview of today’s cases

Nova Scotia announced 842 new cases of COVID-19 today, Wednesday, Jan. 5. 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:
• 498 Central
• 141 Eastern
• 82 Northern
• 121 Western

There are now 45 people in hospital with the disease, eight of whom are in ICU. By age, those hospitalized are 26 to 98 years old, and the average age is 70.

Public Health is coming forward with better data on hospitalizations. Today, Houston said that the average stay in hospital is 5.4 days, and the Department of Health tells me that since Dec. 8 there have been 86 people hospitalized because of COVID.

The hospitalization figure is for those who are admitted to hospital because of COVID. It does not include those who were admitted to hospital for other reasons but tested positive for COVID as part of the admissions screening, nor those who contracted COVID in any of the several hospital outbreaks listed below.

According to Public Health, of those in hospital:

  • 5 (11.1%) have had a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine
  • 24 (53.3%) are fully vaccinated (two doses)
  • 2 (4.4%) are partially vaccinated
  • 14 (31.1%) are unvaccinated

Only 11% of the population is unvaccinated.

Hospital outbreaks

There is a new outbreak at Camp Hill, and fewer than five patients have tested positive.

There are new cases in the outbreaks at Northside General, New Waterford Consolidated, and the Victoria General, with a total of fewer than five patients testing positive at each site.

There are ongoing outbreaks at the Halifax Infirmary, Dartmouth, Victoria General (a second ward), St. Martha’s, New Waterford Consolidated (a second ward), and Cape Breton Regional, with fewer than 12 positive cases at each site.

Nursing homes

There are new outbreaks at:
• New Vision Special Care Home in the Annapolis Valley (one staff and seven residents)
• Waterford Heights in New Waterford (one staff and four residents)

Additionally, there are three new cases at Melville Gardens in Halifax, making a total of two residents and six staff testing positive.

Public Health estimates there are 6,645 active cases in the province, but no one has any idea how many cases there actually are.


Vaccination

Yesterday, 22,337 doses of vaccine were administered:
• 1,344 first doses
• 546 second doses
• 20,447 third doses

In total, there have been 1,815283 doses of vaccine administered, which break down as:
• 69217 people with only the first dose
• 640,317 people with the second dose but not the third
• 155,144 people with three doses

As of end of day yesterday, 89.0% of the population have received at least one dose of vaccine:
• 7.1% with one dose only
• 65.9% with two doses but not three
• 16.0% with three doses
• 11.0% unvaccinated

Appointments for boosters are now open to people 30 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.

Additionally, the province has scheduled several vaccination clinics for booster shots, as follows:

New community clinics will offer vaccine by appointment starting:

  • Thursday, January 6, at the Halifax Forum
  • Monday, January 10, at the Acadia Festival Theatre in Wolfville
  • Monday, January 17, at Mic Mac Mall in Dartmouth
  • Monday, January 24, at the Nova Scotia Community College campus in Truro.

Some existing COVID-19 testing centres will also offer vaccine by appointment. The following centres will start vaccinations on Monday, January 10:

  • Rath Eastlink Community Centre, Truro
  • Pictou County Assessment Centre, New Glasgow
  • Cumberland County Assessment Centre, Amherst
  • Antigonish Market Square, Antigonish
  • Grand Lake Road Fire Hall, Sydney
  • Berwick Fire Hall, Berwick
  • Mariners Centre, Yarmouth.

The Digby Station testing centre will offer vaccine by appointment starting Monday, January 24.


Testing

Nova Scotia Health labs completed 5,410 PCR tests yesterday, with a positivity rate of 15.2% . Given the change in testing protocols, I don’t know how to assess that positivity rate.

Now, if you test positive with a rapid (antigen) test, you no longer will follow that up with a PCR test. Instead, 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 — a limited number are available at the pop-up testing sites, but otherwise symptomatic people can schedule an appointment at the PCR testing sites, where they will be given a rapid test kit to take home (only those in high-risk categories will be given a PCR test).

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

Thursday
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Annapolis Royal Legion, 11am-3pm
Tatamagouche Legion, noon-4pm
Glace Bay Legion, noon-5pm

Friday
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-4pm
Chester Basin Fire Hall, 11am-3pm
Pictou Legion, 11am-3pm
Sydney Mines & District Community Centre, 11am-5pm

Saturday
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Alderney Gate, 10am-2pm

Sunday
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-4pm

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


Potential exposure advisories

School-connected case notifications have ended. Yesterday, the was a COVID exposure advisory for one flight.

We’ve collected all the active advisories for potential COVID exposures on bus routes and flights here.

You can zoom in and click on the icons on the map below to get information about other sites.


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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. I think it does a bit of a disservice to treat the estimated case counts as if they are just a guess pulled out of the ether. Yes, our change in testing means that the error bars on that estimate have gotten a lot bigger, but even before we changed testing our case counts were always an under-count, and epidemiologists in Public Health would have been constructing and using statistical models to get an estimate of the actual number of cases.

    It would be a great article to try and interview an expert who makes these sorts of models for estimating the amount of infections in a population and what sort of data goes into that so the Examiner could educate its readers on some of these technical subjects.