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Overview
Vaccination
Testing

Another person has died from COVID in Nova Scotia — a woman in her 60s who lived in Nova Scotia Health’s Western Zone. She is the fifth Nova Scotian to die from COVID this week, and the 117th since the start of the pandemic.

There are now now 60 people in hospital who were admitted because of COVID symptoms, five of whom are in ICU. Additionally, there are:
• 40 people admitted to hospital for other reasons but who tested positive for COVID during the admissions screening or who were admitted for COVID but no longer require specialized care
• 94 people in hospital who contracted COVID in the hospital outbreaks

The 60 who were admitted because of COVID range in age from 0 (there is a child under 5 in hospital) to 100 years old, and the average age is 66. All but two of the 60 were hospitalized during the Omicron wave.

The vaccination status of the 60 hospitalized is:
• 5 (8.3%) have had 3 doses
• 36 (60%) have had 2 doses but not 3
• 3 (5%) have had 1 dose
• 15 (25%) are unvaccinated
• 1 person’s vaccination status is unknown at this time
Note that less than 10% of the population is unvaccinated.

Additionally, the province announced 837 new cases of COVID-19 today. The new cases are people who received a positive PCR test result from a Nova Scotia Health lab; this 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:
• 500 Central
• 109 Eastern
• 106 Northern
• 122 Western

Health care workers stressed

At today’s COVID briefing, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang painted a bleak picture of a hospital system under considerable strain:

Strang: Hundreds of health care workers are not able to work in a system that was under immense pressure even before the Omicron wave. Nova Scotia Health has between five to seven hundred employees off work on any given day due to COVID. These shortages are happening across the entire health system, from long term care and home care to emergency health services.

With every wave of the virus, we’ve asked our health care providers to do more. They are tired, frustrated and more than a little bit anxious. Many were called back to work during the holidays. Most people are working on teams that are short staffed, and many are being redeployed to other areas of need that they may not have as much comfort in working in what they need to be there.

Nova Scotia Health has once again asked people to cancel their vacations, but it’s still not just enough to relieve the stress on the system. Patient volumes are at a high. Staff are seeing higher visits to emergency and experiencing delays in admitting patients. And outbreak cases among patients already admitted for non-COVID reasons have also gone up and managing these outbreaks requires more staff time and effort to prevent further spread.

The health care system impacts of this wave are requiring that entire system to take significant steps to alleviate pressure and create more capacity.

As we go to publish, Public Health has released the following statement:

There are currently approximately 600 staff and physicians off work due to COVID-19 infections, or the requirement to self-isolate due to close contact with a positive case.

At many hospitals, inpatient units are operating with reduced staffing levels and the demand for beds is exceeding the number of staffed beds available, with approximately 355 hospital beds in the province occupied by patients who are awaiting placement in a long term care facility or housing through the Department of Community Services.

This situation is having a significant impact on wait times, patient flow, and surgical care. Inpatient beds have been closed at many hospitals due to staff availability, while emergency departments have opened overflow beds to manage high volumes of admitted patients.

Approximately 120 scheduled surgeries and 30 endoscopy or gastroenterology procedures were postponed last week due to these challenges. Outpatient rehabilitation services were also temporarily reduced in Central Zone last week.

Additional surgeries have been cancelled this week and effective today (Jan. 12), the following additional service reductions have been introduced across the province to allow staff to be reassigned to help maintain inpatient, ICU, and emergency care:

• Surgical services have been further reduced, with only urgent and emergent surgeries, including time sensitive cancer surgeries, continuing at this time
• Ambulatory care clinics and procedures will focus on urgent needs only

Diagnostic imaging and laboratory services are continuing and will not be affected at this time.

Premier Tim Houston at the COVID briefing, January 12, 2022. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

Given those impacts on health care workers, and yesterday’s testimony to the legislature’s Health Committee, I asked Premier Tim Houston whether he will increase health workers’ pay; our exchange:

Bousquet: Premier, in 2020, when the pandemic started, that summer there was something called a pandemic premium for health care workers. They were paid an extra $2 an hour for up to four months work, and this was early days in the pandemic. There was a difficulty, especially around long term care workers, at that time, but arguably the pressures on health care workers right now are much greater than even then. Is there the ability or will you provide extra emergency funding for health care workers?

Houston: You’re absolutely right. The pressure on our health care workers and across the entire system is is as high or higher than it’s ever been. So you’re absolutely right on that point. These are types of discussions that we’re constantly having. The first instance is how do we how do we support people by, you know, moving people around, rejuggling things to make sure that they have the support they need to do their job effectively — and people that are in the hospital and people that are seeking out care in this province are getting incredible care from people who are under incredible pressure. But you raise a point on on the compensation aspect and these are discussions that will continue to happen and we’ll have those discussions internally, but we definitely want to support our health care workers as best as we possibly can.

I’m not sure what that answer means, but it wasn’t a “yes.”


Vaccination

Yesterday, 17,581 doses of vaccine were administered. The number of doses in each vaccine category (first, second, third) is no longer being reported,

According to the Deptartment of Health, by end of day yesterday, 90.3% of the entire population have received at least one dose of vaccine:
• 7.3% with 1 dose only
• 59.9% with 2 doses but not 3
• 23.1% with 3 doses
• 9.7% 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.

There are many drop-in Pfizer vaccine clinics scheduled, starting next week, several for kids five years old and older.

Additionally, the province has scheduled several appointment-based 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 5,132 PCR tests yesterday, with a positivity rate of 16.3%.

The testing protocols have changed. 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.

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

Wednesday
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Alderney Gate, 10am-2pm
Bridgetown Fire Hall, 11am-3pm
Windsor Legion, 11am-3pm

Thursday
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Annapolis Royal Legion, 11am-3pm
Enfield Fire Hall, 11am-3pm
Port Hood Fire Hall, 11am-3pm

Friday
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Chester Basin Fire Dept., 11am-3pm
Pictou Legion, 11am-3pm
Cheticamp Seniors Hall, 11am-3pm

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.


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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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