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News

1. Daily update

Premier Stephen McNeil at the daily COVID-19 briefing, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia.

There are 68 cases of COVID-19, after the province announced 17 new cases yesterday. The new cases are travel-related or related to earlier travel-related cases.

Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer, says he expects to see larger numbers of new cases in the next week or so as people return home from spring break.

During yesterday’s press conference, Tim asked Premier Stephen McNeil about price gouging. Section 16 of the Emergency Management Act prohibits the raising of prices. McNeil says he has not heard about any price gouging, adding:

As a matter of fact, retailers across the province, grocery stores, have been beyond belief in terms of ensuring the safety of their own workers, but ensuring that Nova Scotians get access to the essential products that we require.

But on Twitter, people shared with Tim what they’ve seen in increases in prices, including cheese that usually sells for about $3.99 now going for $9.99.

Read the full story here.

2. Atlantic Gold’s propaganda blitz

Atlantic Gold’s Touquoy mine. Screenshot from the PDAC award video

Joan Baxter writes about Atlantic Gold’s PR campaign of flyers, television ads, and opinion pieces in newspapers that started the first week of March. The positive PR messages really started in February, though, as Nova Scotians got phone calls for a survey last month about gold mining and Atlantic Gold’s controversial plans for a fourth open pit gold mine near Cochrane Hill on the Eastern Shore.

Baxter untangles some of the claims in the spin, including those around remediating old tailings.

Click here to read “Atlantic Gold is waging a propaganda blitz in Nova Scotia.”

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3. Postal workers

A postal worker delivered to a community box in Sackville Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

Yvette d’Entremont talks with Jim Gallant, a regional grievance officer for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) Atlantic Region, about concerns postal workers have about safety, including the lack of gloves, hand sanitizer, and cleanliness at the two main plants on Almon Street in Halifax and in Burnside.

Gallant says most postal workers want to go to work and get the job done.

The snow, the sleet, the coronavirus. Whatever. We deliver parcels. People order things like their food through the mail and we bring it. That’s what we do. But we want to do it safely.

In a statement, Canada Post says there is a lack of hand sanitizer because of a supply shortage, but gloves and other items are still available. The statement also said extra cleaning staff were hired to clean and disinfect busy common areas throughout the day.

We know Canadians are counting on us and we will do everything we can to keep this country’s postal service operational, while ensuring we make the safety of our employees and our customers our first priority.

Read the full story here.

4. Jail and COVID-19

A cell at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Centre. Photo: Halifax Examiner

El Jones speaks with a prisoner at the Burnside jail about the situation there. Jones asks about cleaning, programs, and how everyone is coping. Mental health supports have been pulled back.

Everybody’s just panicking. They’re trying, but you know, the news gets on the TV every day, and, it’s hard.

I had a bail hearing in place [information about case redacted for privacy] but the judge called and said we’re not going to go forward. It’s not an emergency. I’m really bothered by this. If I were given the opportunity for a hearing maybe I could explain myself and I’d be able to get out.

This is arguable, but I know from other people who have done time in other jails and in other provinces, this is arguably one of the worst jails in the country. For a provincial system, it’s much worse. It’s night and day difference from if you’re doing time federally where you’re able to just have more resources.

Read the full story here.

5. Stories about patients who’ve tested positive for COVID-19

Stories about some of the people who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 are popping up.  Graeme Benjamin at Global reports that workers at a CIBC call centre in downtown Halifax are nervous after learning one of their co-workers tested positive. But the staff are still working in the call centre. Says one worker who asked to remain anonymous:

Everyone just seems like they’re stressed, and rightfully so. After the weekend, we don’t know who brought what home.

Nicole Munro at The Chronicle Herald reports on Rick Cameron, who’s now on a ventilator in an induced coma in the intensive care unit at the Colchester East Hants Health Centre in Truro after falling ill with COVID-19.

Cameron’s daughter, Kelly Marshall, shared his story on Facebook.  

Wondering what his symptoms were?? I think most people are expecting something different you think that it will look or feel different but it’s not and they aren’t…they were no different than the common flu or bad cold that settles in your lungs. He started off desperately tired and had aches he couldn’t kick. Then came the sniffles that seemed to turn into a cold that within a day seemed to settle in his chest. He complained when he took a deep breath it was like something was catching and he had a cough that got worse with time…this was accompanied with really bad chills followed with sweats, aches and fever. He was taking Tylenol cold from the time he started to feel ill and this probably what kept his fever down for so long (we have been avoiding Tylenol so there is no interference with symptoms). He became very ill very fast and this was very concerning for us as this is a man who was active and in very good health, has no underlying conditions, has never been sick in the forty years I’ve been alive other than a common cold a few times. My mother has never seen my father sick in their 51 years together other than a cold. Come Thursday March 19th it became too much of a struggle to breathe it seemed to take every ounce of energy he had so mom had to call an ambulance. He was taken to Aberdeen and tested for COVID-19 but due to his condition he had to be transferred to Truro and has since remained there.

Munro also reports on news that a maintenance worker with Halifax Transit has tested positive for COVID-19. Maintenance staff on the evening shift were sent home and will not be back for tonight’s shift. The work area will be disinfected.

Preston Mulligan at CBC talks with a Dartmouth woman who was told by 811 to go to a testing site and be tested for COVID-19.

Toni Losey started feeling ill after returning from being in the U.K. for several weeks. She called 811, was told to get tested, but was told at the site she didn’t qualify for a test. Instead, she was sent home for more isolation from her family.

The quarantine I’ve been put on now confines me to a room within my house specifically with a separate bathroom. It’s definitely more stringent and extreme.


Views

1. No internet access: Connecting with kids who aren’t online during COVID-19

On Tuesday I started to think about ways to teach my daughter, who’s in Grade 11, at home. I asked friends about some online teaching tools. I read Phil Moscovitch’s piece on homeschooling in Tuesday’s Morning File. I signed up for the e-library at the Halifax Public Libraries. I thought, “This could be easy for parents.”

And then I remembered not every kid or family in Nova Scotia has access to the internet.

About 70% of homes and business in the province have access to high-speed internet. In February, the province announced contracts with five providers to increase service for 42,000 Nova Scotians, but that likely won’t happen soon enough.

I sent out a tweet on Tuesday asking where cell phone and internet service was limited, and many people responded with the names of communities across the province.

Even if homes can get the internet, that doesn’t mean they have the devices like cell phones or computers. For some kids and families, public libraries and CAP sites were important resources that are no longer available to them.

It’s easy to think schools can get back to class but online, but that’s not going to work for a lot of kids in public schools, like it is at the Halifax Grammar School, which started virtual classes on Monday.

Chrissy Matheson, a spokesperson with the Department of Education, says a plan for learning is still in the works, and the priority is those students in Grade 12. Matheson says they are aware not every family has access to internet or devices.

Recognizing that schools know their communities best, staff, in collaboration with administrators, classroom teachers and other support staff can consider how best to reach out to students and their families during this time.

I spoke with Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) about this, too. He says teachers know not all families have internet or devices. Some families simply can’t afford cell phones or computers and parents now working at home might be relying on the one cell phone the family has.

It’s a complex equation about who has access to broadband and who doesn’t.

Wozney say delivering learning materials directly to kids at home could be an option for those who don’t have the internet, but there are still uncertainties about how long coronavirus can live on surfaces.

It’s not impossible. The first thing is how do we keep people safe and healthy. Public health has bigger fish to fry than getting materials to kids.

Wozney says even when a learning plan is announced, it may still evolve as news around coronavirus changes, as it’s been every day now.

The plan is only ever really good for a max of about 24 hours.

And the plan won’t be the same for everyone. Wozney says plans will be created for elementary, junior high, and high school students. Wozney points out that kids learn not only from teachers in a classroom and through work they do on their own, but also from other kids. Besides of a lack of technology, not all parents will be equipped to help teach their children the subjects they’ve been learning. He says a plan should be comprehensive, use common sense, and be on a foundation on which they can build.

I hope people have some understanding and humanity as we roll this all out. These are not normal circumstances to be teaching in.

For some kids, schools aren’t just a place of learning, but also a way to get access to food.  Many schools have breakfast programs supplied by organizations like Breakfast Club of Canada and Nourish Nova Scotia. Margo Riebe-Butt is the executive director of Nourish Nova Scotia, and says while they’re not funding breakfast programs now, they’re still offering resources on healthy eating, including ideas for families through blog posts and its social media.

One in six children in Nova Scotia face food insecurity and Canada is the only G7 country without a national school food program. But Riebe-Butt says not all kids who use breakfast programs come from food-insecure homes. Some kids arrive to school early for sports or music programs. Some have long bus rides to school. And yes, some kids don’t have access to breakfast at home. But these programs are universal and available to all kids, which is what makes them successful. Because every kid can eat breakfast at school, those kids who need that food don’t face the stigma of getting breakfast, too.

By having these programs in schools, it takes away the burden of a meal at home on limited resources. I think that is one of the strengths of the schools is they know the families who need extra support.

Riebe-Butt says announcements like those from Breakfast Club of Canada, which is giving $5 million to community organizations to give out food to kids in need, will help. As will increases in the child tax credit and $50 payouts to those on income assistance. Food banks are also upping their programs across the province. Some families will face reduced household incomes as parents lose jobs. Breakfast programs are still important, no matter how they are delivered now.

There are organizations across the HRM that offer programming for kids, some of which can’t be offered online. I connected with several organizations about their plans. Like everyone else, they’re trying to adapt to this new normal.

Family SOS has programs for parents, youth, and children, that focus on healthy living and developing social skills, through programs offered at sites in Spryfield, north Dartmouth, and in the north end of Halifax.

Mary Acton-Bond is the executive director at Family SOS and says last Friday they surveyed about 150 parents that take part in programs and found about 70% of them didn’t have any access to online resources, including internet or devices.

It’s a real struggle at the moment because we haven’t come up with the perfect solution. These kids don’t have WiFi. That’s not a thing in their lives.

This week, staff handed out activity bags to the kids in the program, following all the safety precautions. The bags included toys, materials to make crafts, but also food. Family SOS is working with Feed Nova Scotia to help distribute food to some of its members.

Some of the food donations given to Family SOS, which distributes food to families in Spryfield, Halifax, and Dartmouth. With social distancing and without the internet, programs that work with kids have had to get creative in how they connect. That’s especially true for families without internet access. Photo: Facebook

Since programs can’t take place in person, staff have been calling kids on the phone, about 30 a day, giving them a project or challenge to work on or providing counselling when needed.

Our people are spending an enormous amount of time on the phone.

Acton-Bond says they’re now working to get their parenting programs online, but that will require donations of laptops and tablets. They are handing out charge cards to parents who have pay-as-you-go cell phones. Acton-Bond says the team is meeting on Friday to see if they can come up with more plans for the kids. They’ll continue to hand out those activity bags, though.

At the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Halifax, CEO Henk van Leeuwen says early-morning and after-school programming is on pause now, and they’re reaching out to families with online resource and sharing activities through its social media. Van Leeuwen says they also have a program called Project Backpack at its clubs in north Dartmouth and Spryfield.

Ordinarily, participating children bring a backpack home full of food each Friday so they can make healthy meals with their families on the weekend. The Club is exploring ways to modify this program in the interim, and provide this support differently.

At Big Brothers Big Sisters Halifax, Shelda Cochrane, the manager of community engagement, says face-to-face meetings are not possible between the mentors and the kids in the programs, but everyone is keeping in touch through phone calls or emails. Staff are also working to connect families with other resources. Says Cochrane:

We are encouraging our Bigs and Littles to connect by phone or digitally (facetime, google hangout etc.) where possible. Some of them are being very creative and have organized Facetime paint nights and interactive games. We haven’t had a case yet of a family not having some way of connecting with the volunteer, although in some cases the contact may be a simple phone call. If this comes up, we’ll encourage the Big to send a note in the mail so the Little knows they are thinking of them during this time.

I also reached out to Hope Blooms, the Take the Action Society, The Youth Project, and 4-H. I didn’t hear back from them, but I suspect like with other groups, they’re working on plan to keep connected with kids.

It’s one thing to say kids and teenagers are bored staying at home now, but many have also been cut off from really important programs. But groups are adapting and still connecting with them. Also, it’s easier for anyone with access to the internet to keep busy, to learn, and to connect with friends and family. The internet is a lifeline for many Nova Scotians and those who can’t access libraries or CAP sites now are cut off in many ways. It’s important to remember to reach out beyond the virtual world.

2. Reach out and touch someone … on the phone

I use the phone often, mostly for interviews, and have been calling people more often in the past two weeks. I think others must be doing the same since several times just this week I’ve got this message when I made a call: All circuits are busy.

Is anyone else getting this message? I haven’t heard it in years.

I remember rotary phones, and the long, twisted cords that could stretch from room to room. Most families only had one phone that hung on the wall in a hallway or sat on a small table. Sometimes we’d just let the phone ring and you’d never know who called. Dialing phone numbers with a lot of zeroes were a special pain in the ass. My cousins in Big Pond had a party line. When we returned home from trips to Cape Breton, my mother would call my grandmother collect, asking if so-and-so was home. My grandmother would answer with a no. That was the sign to her that we all got home safely without either of them spending money on long-distance charges.

Then came call waiting, call display, voicemail, and more. There was no ignoring the phone anymore.

I see people sharing on social media how they’re using the phone more often, too.

And now we’re relying on the phone to connect us with important programs and supports like EI and 811. I do worry about the workers on the other line, though. I’m sure they’re overworked and exhausted right now.

Since I use the phone often, I don’t have any anxiety about calling people up, but I know a lot of people do and prefer texts, emails, or messages through Facebook. But there’s something about using the phone, especially now in a time of crisis, which makes text, emails, or Messenger seem not as effective. I reached out (by phone, of course) to a former colleague, Mary Jane Copps, from my magazine editing days. Copps is known as The Phone Lady and trains people how to use the phone. Last week, she shared this sheet of advice on how to move from text to talk.

Mary Jane Copps, known as The Phone Lady, helps people overcome anxiety over using the phone.

Copps says phone anxiety started with the 2002 release of the Blackberry, which become known as the “Crackberry.”

We’ve been talking with our thumbs for a long time.

She says people often don’t like using the phone because of the lack of control they have over the conversation. With texts, you can edit your responses (think about the ellipsis in the bubble you see when you’re waiting for someone to respond to your text. They’re thinking about what to say). There’s also the lack of body language and tone in texting (emojis don’t work the same as hearing a voice). Copps says some of the advice she gives to clients to help them get over their phone anxiety includes creating an agenda for the call, setting parameters, and cutting photos of people out of magazines to have a face to look at while you’re talking with someone. When she works with clients who prefer texting, she asks them when they would like her to call. Many people are simply out of practice on how to use the phone. Copps says our hearing is often amplified when we’re on the phone, too.

If they can tune into how strong their hearing is on the phone, you really learn how beautiful it is. The sound of our voice is so important in this situation.

Copps has been making more calls herself lately, making an effort to call a friend or family every day since this COVID-19 crisis started. Besides phone interviews, I’ve been chatting with friends on the phone often, too. We make a point of talking about anything not related to COVID-19. Maybe it’s not appropriate, but it’s a welcome distraction from the constant and changing information about the coronavirus. We’ve had some very good laughs at jokes and funny personal stories. For a little while, it’s nice to hear a voice after being at home. Copps says these days, families should make projects by making phone calls, including reaching out to older family members.

Certainly, with the nursing home situation, you should pick up the phone. It says so much more than words on a screen.


Noticed

Yesterday I saw this petition circulating.

The petition mentions a letter sent by the Nova Scotia Veterinary Medical Association (NSVMA) sent to the province asking that vet services be included as an essential service during the COVID-19 crisis. The petition wasn’t started by the NSVMA but it has more than 5,400 signatures so far.

I spoke with Dr. Frank Richardson, registrar of the NSVMA, about its letter to the province, which was sent on March 19. As of yesterday, they hadn’t received a response. Richardson says keeping clinics open is for the public good.

I’m hoping and praying the province does grant that designation sooner rather than later.

Richardson says other provinces, including Ontario, Quebec, P.E.I., have designated vet clinics as essential services. Right now, the NSVMA is giving guidelines to clinics in Nova Scotia to only provide emergency services. That means services like vaccines and spaying and neutering are not being done right now. Only staff are permitted in the clinic and they are practicing lots of safety measures, including social distancing and wearing protective gear. Clinic staff pick up the pet from their owner’s car, bring the animal into the clinic for treatment, and delivery them back out to the client. Any communication taking place between the vets and clients happens over the phone.

Wendell the Chihuahua waits in the car before getting picked up by a vet tech at the Cobequid Animal Hospital. Vet clinics aren’t allowing people inside, so vet techs are picking up pets from their owners’ cars, giving the exams, and bringing them back to the owner. Photo: Pat Lee

The NSVMA also has an entire page on COVID-19 and animals, including if the virus can affect animals (yes, but …), if people can catch the virus from  their pets (no), how COVID-19 affects livestock (they don’t know), and a bit on that dog in Hong Kong that was diagnosed with the virus (the dog was owned by someone who tested positive for the virus and the dog itself had a series of positive tests).

Other animal welfare organizations are also shutting down or limiting services because of COVID-19. The Dartmouth location of Nova Scotia SPCA is closed to the public for its adoption, volunteer, and spay-and-neuter programs. A core group of essential staff are still taking animals that need urgent or emergency care. They’re relying on their network of fosters to look after other animals and if they need new foster families, those details will be posted on its Facebook page.

At Bide Awhile, the shelter is restricting access to the public and volunteers. They are still taking cats that need to be surrendered. They also have a pet food pantry for those who can’t afford to feed their pets right now.

Homeward Bound announced just last night its closing its clinic April 30 and they will be adopting out cats and dogs until then.

Cat rescue programs have been affected by limits at vet clinics, too. Linda Felix with Spay Day HRM says they can’t have any cats they rescue spayed or neutered because clinics are not offering those services now. That means low-income families with pets will have to wait. Adoptions at pet stores have been suspended. Felix says since we’re heading into “kitten season,” limits on services will hit rescue programs big time.

Our policy is that the cat goes from the street to a vet clinic before going to foster care or adoption. So since we cannot get cats into clinics, we cannot get cats into foster care. Cats need to be treated for fleas, worms, parasites, spayed or neutered, be tested for FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) and feline leukemia before going into a home where there are other animals. We can limit exposure and protect our foster homes and volunteers but not having access to all veterinary services is a problem for me. In addition, we had to cancel all our fundraising events for the next several months, so finally this will hurt as well.

Richardson says for people, especially now when they are home more often, being with pets is important.

The human and animal bonds are incredibly strong. Pets today aren’t animals; they are members of the family. It would be stressful to an owner to think these services might be closed.


Government

All meetings are cancelled.


On campus

All events are cancelled.


In the harbour

05:00: YM Express, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York 
07:30: Asterix, replenishment vessel, moves from Dockyard to Irving Oil
11:30: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 41 to Autoport
16:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves back to Pier 41
16:30: YM Express sails for Rotterdam
17:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
18:30: RHL Agilitas, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York

Footnotes

Jack Scrine, the photographer behind Halifolks, the photo-and-story series of everyday Haligonians, is back with a new project. And he’s looking for stories. If you want to share one, send Scrine a message to halifolks@gmail.com. Scrine will be doing the interviews over the phone or video calls.

Scrine once talked to a group of kids I was teaching a few years ago. He’s a great storyteller and photographer. I look forward to this!

Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent

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  1. I frequently grocery shop in Ontario and BC, and somewhat recently did so in Saskatoon too. I’m often struck that cheese is rarely on sale in those locations and is normally $8.99-9.99 a block, usually for the same size block I frequently find on sale in Nova Scotia for $3.99 and $4.99. I return home to NS and am grateful (cheese lover that I am) at the prices for it here. I’m not saying that prices aren’t higher now, altho’ I didn’t find that in shopping this week myself, but I think using cheese prices is a poor comparator for arguing that corporates are price gouging. 🙂

  2. Premier McNeil has, surprisingly, been doing a pretty good job most of the time. In the press conferences that’s primarily because he smartly defers ti Dr. Strang.

    A couple of days ago a reporter from cape Breton asked him abotu complaints she had received from employees at a call centre and a couple of other places. The employees told her that proper cleaning was not taking place, physical distancing was not taking place, and, in one case, an employee was required to come to work having reported being sick.

    McNeil twisted himself in knots to avoid dealing with the allegations and went on a lengthy rant about how great employers have been. Thankfully Dr. Strang ended the program by thanking the reporter for bringing the issue up and advising that if notified his inspectors would check those situations out.

    Yesterday’s avoidance of price-gouging is another example of the neoliberal refusal to admit that the corporate sector has only one goal in mind – profit above all else.

  3. A comment on the provinicial policy of not identifying the communities where people have Covid19:
    When we’re isolated, we are not picking up info from the usual community spots like Tim’s or the bank lineup – so we have no idea if anyone in our neighbourhood is sick with Coronovirus. While I understand and agree with the need for privacy, I do think it would promote better health precautions if people knew the virus was identified among a “number” of patients in any given area. Individual communities don’t have to be identified, but maybe name the town in an area where most people go shopping, or a section of a county. There seems to be a feeling that it’s all happening in Halifax (like everything else – haha!) and I don’t need to worry if I’m only going to the grocery store in the nearest town. All that said – I just washed our cloth shopping bags.