Dr. Robert Strang at the COVID briefing, Feb. 3, 2021. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

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Nova Scotia will establish its first community clinic for administering the coronavirus vaccine later this month. The clinic will operate from Feb. 22-25 at the IWK, and will target 300-400 people 80 years old and over, randomly selected on an invite-only basis.

“We’re only able to do a small number of people for this clinic,” explained Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health. “We’re calling it our prototype, but we will learn from that. And then when we’re able to have more of these clinics and sustain them; we will have more effective, efficient clinics.”

“We ask people who don’t get the invitation, be patient,” continued Strang. “We have a small amount of vaccine. We’re doing this as a way to learn … in the weeks to come, we plan to have a total of 10 community based clinics operating between HRM, Truro, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, Kentville, Yarmouth, Antigonish, and Bridgewater by early March.”

The vaccination for the 80-and-over age cohort is part Phase 1 of the vaccination program, during which only tiny numbers of vaccine are expected, and which is expected to continue until mid- to late-April. At the point, when the province starts getting large and dependable deliveries of vaccine, Phase 2 will begin, and mass inoculation will begin.

“Age will become the primary factor in who gets immunized and when in the general population,” explains a provincial press release. “After those 80 and older receive their vaccine, the next group will be people 75- to 79-years-old. Vaccinations will continue in declining five-year age blocks until all Nova Scotians receive their vaccine.”

It is expected that everyone in Nova Scotia will be vaccinated by September.

Strang has repeatedly defended the age-cohort strategy, including during today’s briefing, when he said:

We’ve looked at this and, you know, there has been work going on that if we have to, as we get into April, we may have to have very specific priority groups. We’ve got the work done looking at what we call so-called essential workers.

But the reality is, if we’re if we achieve a robust vaccine supply, doing age-based accommodates by far the biggest risk factor and gets people based on age, you know, as quickly as possible.

Many workplaces … have existing covid protection protocols involving personal protective equipment, other types of protocols, which are a layer of safety already that they have.

The third piece is as we work through the logistics of this — and the vaccine planning team has looked at this extensively — every time we take a defined group and we have to divide our energy and our efforts around vaccination in multiple different directions, and we have to have registration and validation that you’re in the group, all those things that actually substantivity slows us down.

So, again, if our overall goal is the population gets immunized as quickly as possible, then the best approach to take to reach that goal is to stay focused as much as possible on age. Everybody will get a chance, you know, and as their age comes up and it will protect people as they get the age cohort.

Tourism industry

At the briefing, I asked about COVID’s effect on the tourism industry. There was this exchange:

Bousquet: Premier, this week your government announced, I think to no one’s surprise, that the ferry service to Yarmouth would be cancelled because of the continuing covid emergency. I would imagine that, you know, there’s a range of considerations in that, including the length of the season, the cost. I wonder, though, if your government has done any modelling or has any expectations on the recovery of the overall tourism industry, not specific to the ferry. Can you can you give tourism operators some indication of what they might be able to expect this coming summer?

Premier Stephen McNeil: Well, I think there’s a lot of unknowns for all of us. One of your colleagues asked a question about the Atlantic bubble. We know that when that was in place, Atlantic Canadians stayed home, went visit each other’s provinces, saw the beauty of this part of Canada. We won’t know whether or not we will be able to reinstate that in time for tourism season until we see what happens. The amount of vaccine that arrives will determine how quickly we get it, will determine the decisions that they will make. So I know the minister and his team will be working with sector representatives to help us move forward. But we will continue to follow our number one focus, quite frankly, will continue to make sure that we deal with this virus. And public health will be a major part of that. But we’re well aware of the impact this is having on on on the tourism sector. So there’s a lot of unknowns. And when we know it, we’ll communicated out to the industry and to all Nova Scotians if there’s any restrictions being lifted that.

Strang: So I’ve had a couple of conversations I was home on earlier today with the Labor and Economic Council, with, you know, business and other folks from across the province. I was asked a similar question, and the answer I’ve given several times to different business group is that that’s where you should anticipate all of us having to have some level of covid protocols and covid restrictions until we get into the fall. That’s that’s a fairly, you know, conservative assumption. But you should build your thinking on that. And certainly from the tourism sector, I said, you know, we have to remain very careful about people coming from other parts of the country, let alone internationally for the next number of months. So I think, you know, people are interested in tourism, are going to put a plug in for we have we’re very safe in Nova Scotia. Let’s be following all the public health protocols. There’s nothing wrong with, you know, spending your tourist dollars right here in Nova Scotia supporting local tourism and other local businesses. [00:35:18][59.6]

Moderator:Go ahead with your follow up, Tim.

Bousquet: Yeah, I had a different question, but given that response, Dr. Strang, and thank you for that… I know it’s early days yet and we don’t know what the vaccine numbers are going to look like yet beyond ballpark. But are you thinking about, or is there some sort of planning for the potential, something along the lines of vaccination passports for tourists coming into Nova Scotia?

Strang: So I think we’re not there yet. Nationally, there’s a number of ethical and other issues around vaccine passports, but even right now, the science behind them, until we get clear evidence that if you have two doses of the vaccine, that you cannot spread the virus asymptomatically until we can answer that question satisfactorily. Even if you have two doses of the vaccine, you’re going to have to follow all the public health protocols, including the quarantine. We’ll get that answer. What the answer is going to be, I don’t know. And the time frame, you know, will be in the next weeks to months. But until then, we need to understand that vaccines don’t solve everything. They’re not a panacea. They’re another important part of our overall approach to COVID. But I think that the key message I’ll come back to, we have to be prepared to live with our own personal and family COVID protocols, with our workplace COVID protocols, and some level of necessary public health restrictions, at least for the spring in the summer. And so we should think about having to do that into the fall. That, I think, is a fairly safe place to be. And if actually it turns out we can be a little bit faster than that, then it’ll be that’ll be great. Great news. But I think they have some have some reasonable expectations that that COVID is not going away any time soon, even if even as we had vaccine to our tool, our toolbox to deal with COVID.

Today’s numbers

One new case of COVID-19 is announced in Nova Scotia today (Wednesday, Feb. 3).

The new case is in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone and is related to travel outside Atlantic Canada.

There are now 11 known active cases in the province. Two people are in hospital with the disease, one of whom is in ICU.

The active cases are distributed as follows:

• 4 in the Halifax Peninsula / Chebucto Community Health Network in the Central Zone
• 2 in the Dartmouth/ Southeastern Community Health Network in the Central Zone
• 1 in the Bedford/ Sackville Community Health Network in the Central Zone
• 1 in the Cape Breton Community Health Network in the Eastern Zone
• 2 in the Inverness, Victoria & Richmond Community Health Network in the Eastern Zone
• 1 in the Annapolis and Kings Community Health Network in the Western Zone

Nova Scotia Health labs conducted 1,617 tests yesterday.

As of yesterday, 15,837 doses of vaccine have been administered in Nova Scotia; of those 3,457 were second doses.

Here are the new daily cases and seven-day rolling average (today at 1.0) since the start of the second wave (Oct. 1):

And here is the active caseload for the second wave:

Here is the updated possible exposure map:

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Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Typo alert: “Strang has repeatedly defended the ago-cohort strategy. . . ” I think you mean age-cohort. 🙂

    Learned a lot more from this article than I did from CBC’s. I like how you often include the answers to the questions you, and other reporters, ask. Definitely provides a lot more information. Thanks.