1.“COVID cluster” info misleads health care providers — and the public

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, at the COVID-19 briefing, Thursday, April 23, 2020. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia.

Tim Bousquet looks at all the “Covid clusters” the Nova Scotia Health Authority has mapped and how they are being used by healthcare providers. The information in those clusters is being used to deny people medical attention. Bousquet got the list of 10 postal codes and asked the authority about it and they said the postal code information is a “risk assessment tool” staff use to see if extra precautions are needed to keep patients and staff safe.

But, as Bousquet learns, the list is being used to deny some patients medical care, including one woman who posted on Facebook an exchange she had with a medical receptionist who told her the doctor wasn’t seeing any patients from her community because it was high risk for COVID-19.

At Wednesday’s daily COVID-19 briefing, Bousquet asked Dr. Robert Strang about the COVID cluster list. Here’s that exchange:

Bousquet: Perhaps related, you spoke earlier in the briefing about Northwood staff being spread across a wide geographic area and coming into the facility at Northwood possibly, if I understood you correctly, possibly bringing COVID into the facility because they come from so many diverse communities. I wonder two things: if that was sort of a backhanded reference to people from these clusters working at Northwood, but also, why isn’t the reverse a concern? That people who are working at Northwood may be carrying COVID back to their communities?

Strang: First of all, it’s not intended as a reflection on any community. My comment was simply a recognition that when you have a large facility with hundreds of staff coming from a broad range of communities throughout the HRM area and beyond, as opposed to a smaller facility in a more rural part of Nova Scotia, there’s a greater likelihood that that broader mix of communities of COVID being brought into the long-term care facility. That’s the only intention of my remarks, so please don’t take it as a reflection negatively on any community.

The reality is we know in long-term care facilities and our acute care facilities that there are strict infection control guidelines and protective equipment guidelines that are based on the type of care that is delivered and the type of facility, that if adhered to greatly minimizes the chance of a health care worker actually being exposed and infected. So the real risk in long-term care or even in hospitals is people coming into the facility who now that we know about asymptomatic spread, and that’s one of the reasons why, we’ve been able to move on masking all frontline health care providers. There’s a much, much lower risk of introduction into a community from a health care worker from a facility.

Read the full story here. 

2. Search on for Cyclone that crashed into Ionian Sea

A CH-148 Cyclone helicopter crashed into the Ionian Sea off the Greek resort island of Cephalonia during a training mission on Wednesday. The Cyclone is with HMCS Fredericton serving with a NATO task force.

CTV reports that the first victim of the crash has been identified as Abbigail Cowbrough. Her father Shane Cowbrough shared a Facebook post:

I am broken and gutted. There are no words. You made me forever proud. I will love you always, and miss you in every moment. You are the bright light in my life taken far too soon.

Abbigail Cowbrough. Photo: Facebook

Murray Brewster with CBC reports that local media said there were six crew members on board the helicopter. A source with the Greek government told CBC one body was recovered. On Wednesday night, a tweet from the Canadian Armed Forces Twitter account said families of the crew on board were notified.

Officials told CBC Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would address the nation this morning.

3. Debert man says shooter hid behind welding shop

An RCMP map shows GW’s route from Debert and through Truro.

Brian MacDonald, who owns a welding shop in Debert, tells CTV the killer in the mass shootings 11 days ago hid behind the shop overnight after the shootings in Portapique. MacDonald says he found several items GW left behind.

A pair of boots – leather, high-top boots, parade boots, I guess they call them. A gun holster (and an) empty box of shells.

MacDonald, who tells CTV that he did some work for the shooter in the past, says GW may have been trying to hide his car there.

There used to be a bunker – typically the same as what I have. It only had a roof on it. And you could go right down there and drive in.

MacDonald says the roof of the building was torn down a year ago.

4. Psychology profs studying diary entries to learn how we cope with grief

Memorial at entrance to Portapique Beach Road. Photo: Joan Baxter.

Aaron Beswick at The Chronicle Herald talks with St. Francis Xavier University psychology professor Karen Blair who is co-authoring a diary study that looks at how people are coping with COVID-19. Blair and Debby Herbenick, a psychology professor at Indiana University, launched The COVID-19 Interpersonal and Social Coping Study a month ago. There volunteers can answer questions about their mental health and wellbeing and even add short diary entries. Says Blair:

Normally our relationships – our romantic and general contact – are really important to our mental health.

Even a short conversation with the person who gives you a coffee can play big part in your overall well being. Are people who are usually very connected noticing a bigger effect because there is a bigger drop in social contact? What are the risk factors? What promotes resilience? What coping measures work better?

So far, 900 volunteers from around the world have signed on. About 150 of those volunteers are from Nova Scotia.

Blair says the diary entries also show how people are coping with the shooting tragedy on April 18 and 19, saying she sees how people are struggling with grief while not having our normal coping mechanisms, which include connecting with people.

People literally hugging strangers and crying on each others’ shoulders plays a big role in finding closure or seeing some positive, that in the wake of these horrible events you often see the best of humanity.

We had the beautiful vigil online but I’d imagine it didn’t feel the same. For people living alone, it may have felt worse. To watch that and not be with anyone else.

Blair tells Beswick it will take years to process the diary entries, which she hopes to turn into a book.

5. The legacy of Halifax humanitarian Mel Boutilier

Mel Boutilier

Halifax humanitarian Mel Boutilier, who founded Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank and the Metro Food Bank Society, is being remembered as a “giant.” Boutilier passed away on Tuesday at the age of 92. He was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer in January.

Social worker Robert Wright tells Global News Boutilier’s “life has just been fuelled by compassion.”

Thelma [Boutilier’s wife] always says he did not have the ability to pass someone who had a need, without trying to figure out an ability to meet that need.

Plans have not been made for a celebration of life, but a family statement reads:

For now we’d ask that you simply remember his many contributions to his community and that we all seek to be kinder to those around us, especially during the restrictions we all live with during this state of emergency.


1. Without financial relief from COVID-19 shut downs, ranches and stable owners are falling through the cracks

Marylyn Andrews owns Rocky Hollow Ranch in Beaver Bank. Her business has shut down with COVID-19 restrictions, but she doesn’t qualify for any financial assistance from the government. Photo: Rocky Hollow Ranch

Marylyn Andrews runs Rocky Hollow Ranch, which sits on six acres in Beaver Bank. At the ranch, Andrews has 12 horses, most of which have been rehabilitated, which are used in riding lessons, including therapeutic programs for kids and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities.

But the ranch has all but shut down since March. Andrews lost all of the revenue from March Break camps, weekly camps, and camps for school PD days, which she says were always full. She had to cancel other events like the Easter egg hunt that was to take place at the ranch. This year’s event, Andrews says, was to be the biggest one yet.

Andrews says she or the ranch don’t qualify for any financial assistance through any of the COVID-19 relief programs offered by the federal or provincial government because she doesn’t have employees. And she doesn’t qualify for CERB because the money she makes through the ranch programs goes back into the business. The horses are like her staff but they still need to be fed and taken care of, all of which costs money that isn’t coming in right now. Andrews estimates her monthly costs to take care of the horses totals about $3,500, which includes feed, sawdust, and maintaining the fences and ranch grounds. The feed is the most important and most expensive cost.

Her ranch was deemed essential because she has chickens and sells their eggs. But the recreational portion of the ranch, including the lessons and therapeutic programs that bring in the revenue, aren’t covered and was ordered to shut down. “Not everyone fits in the same basket,” Andrews says. “[The federal government] did the best they could, but a lot of us are falling through the cracks.”

Andrews started the ranch several years ago. When she was 30, Andrews broke her back and ended up in rehab. Through her recovery, she eventually went back to school at age 40 and on to Dalhousie University where she got a degree in recreational therapy. She got into working with horses, which is something she did as a kid. “I knew horses worked as a distraction for people with intellectual and physical disabilities,” Andrews says. “That’s why I got into the field.”

With the therapeutic riding program, Andrews works with people with intellectual challenges, autism, and social anxiety from ages six to 50. She says she sees the ways in which they learn and blossom by working with the horses. Not only do the students get to ride the horses, they learn how to take care of them, from cleaning stalls and taking care of the grooming. “’We don’t go by diagnosis, but what people can do. It leads to an amazing outcome.” (Testimonials from those who have taken part in programs at Rocky Hollow were shared here).

A student with one of the horses at Rocky Hollow Ranch. Photo contributed.

Andrews also hosts a “vet day” at the ranch where the horses’ veterinarian visits and all the kids and students get to learn about the health of each horse. Andrews says she doesn’t know what the summer will bring. That’s when she’d normally host summer camps, but all of those — and the revenue they’d bring — are up in the air. She understands even when businesses open back up, people will still be scared to take up any activity where there could be a lot of people. She makes most of her money between March and October.

We might end up okay at the tail end, but the beginning is a rough go. I am at a loss. I don’t know where to go from here.

COVID-19 has posed another issue for Andrews and her health. She was scheduled to get another surgery on her back, but that was postponed because surgeries were postponed. She uses a spinal cord stimulator that helps her walk, but she can’t work with the horses for long periods of time. Right now, she has some volunteers who help out with the horses, while practicing physical distancing and frequently washing their hands. “There’s no possible way for at this point, with my machine, I’d be able to do this,” Andrew says.

Andrews is not the only ranch owner in this situation. Kevin Donovan with The Star wrote about the precarious situation many stable owners across Canada face with the loss of revenue because of COVID-19 restrictions. Donovan reports that in April, Yves Hamelin, executive director of Equestrian Canada, wrote a letter to federal agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau asking for help for their sector. In the letter, Hamelin said, equine schools will “be forced to make culling or euthanasia decisions in a matter of weeks — not months — of perfectly healthy, capable, working equines due to (the) sudden burden of unmanageable operating costs.”

The stable owners Donovan spoke with said they are trying to avoid euthanasia, but admitted difficult conversations needed to be had.

Do you put down older horses to save the lives of younger horses? If a beloved horse has a condition that causes high veterinary bills, does that make the choice easier?

In an email, Heather Myrer, executive director with the Nova Scotia Equestrian Federation, says they’ve been working with Equestrian Canada to advocate for and lobby government agencies on behalf of ranches and businesses like Rocky Hollow that don’t qualify for financial assistance.

Myrer says Equestrian Canada (EC) created a working group made up of equine farmers and representatives of equine/equestrian organizations from both the provincial and federal levels, including EC and Provincial Territorial Sport Organization (PTSO). Says Myrer:

This working group will be addressing the immediate and short-term economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the equine/equestrian industry. The intention of the working group is to demonstrate the depth and breadth of this impact to the industry to provincial and federal government bodies.

As for Andrews, she says she’s received donations and someone set up a Go Fund Me page. “I don’t want to lose it and I don’t know what to do,” Andrews says. “I don’t want to ask for help because everyone is in this.”


I suppose if you’re staying home all the time, one thing you could do is some renovations. One couple, Mark and Susan, who call themselves Restojunkie, bought a 104-year-old, 9,000 square-foot brick mansion in Amherst, are renovating it, and blogging about the process here.

From what I researched the house was built for businessman Albert A. Barker. Albert and his brother George built a department store in town. The house has four floors including the basement and the top floor, which once served as a ballroom. There are two living rooms, a dining room, a small room that was originally the cigar room, kitchen, 3 1/2 baths, and six bedrooms.

The current state of the 104-year-old Barker house in Amherst. Photo: Restojunkie
The house in better days. Photo: Restojunkie
The side porch. Photo: Restojunkie
The top floor of the house was once a ballroom. Photo: Restojunkie

What is interesting about the blog are the comments at the end of the posts. At one point, the house was renovated into several apartments and many former tenants share their stories of living there:

From Tara: I rented my very first apartment in this house. I lived on the very top floor on the right with the beautiful dresser built into the wall. Miss Barker (Behula Barker’s daughter) lived on the level underneath us with the rib caged shower. Miss Barker would tell me stories of when she was a child in this house, her parents would host the most extravagant dinner parties. Many wealthy and very important people of Amherst would attend these parties setting our history in place. Such a beautiful piece of history and thank you for restoring its beauty!

From Wanda Robinson: I lived in this house with my daughter for over a year on the second floor apartment # 2. Across the hall was Beulah Barker, the sweet lady who was my neighbor for over a year. I had the unit with the famous marble shower with all the jets and the step up tub. I enjoyed living in this old place and I am so happy that someone is going to restore this place. It was beautiful in its day and would love to see it beautiful again.

There are a lot of photos of the renovation process. Again, the blog is here. 

Anyway, this looks like quite the undertaking. I don’t have the skills or the money to renovate a closet right now.


No meetings.

In the harbour

05:00: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
06:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from anchorage to Autoport
06:00: Skogafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
06:00: Maersk Maker, offshore supply ship, moves from Pier 9 to Irving Woodside
08:00: Atlantic Kestrel, offshore supply ship, arrives at Pier 9 from Les Mechins, Quebec
08:00: AS Laguna, container ship, sails from Pier 9 for sea
10:00: Maersk Maker sails for sea
11:00: X-Press Makalu, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for sea
15:30: Skogafoss sails for Portland
15:30: Atlantic Sea sails for Liverpool, England
16:00: Hansa Meersburg, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Kingston, Jamaica
18:30: AlgoNorth, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Montreal


I have a 17-year-old daughter who is coping pretty well with staying home. Her sleep schedule is off and she misses her friends, her part-time job, and even school, but she’s keeping up on her schoolwork, stays in touch with friends through video chats, and is looking forward to ordering something called Animal Crossing. She also has a wicked sense of humour, which keeps me laughing, even when I don’t feel like it.  Here’s one recent conversation we had:

Me: It’s snowing out.
My kid: It’s snowing out? It’s MARCH!
Me: It’s April.
My kid: IT’S APRIL!?!?

Oh, and tomorrow is May 1.

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

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  1. The best line this week – last Tuesday, my wife said ‘You mean it’s only TUESDAY?’

  2. Mel Boutilier was also the founder of The Metro Care & Share Society, which was started in 1994:

    It’s at the corner of Agricola and May. I ran into Mel there regularly as I walked to work, back when that was a thing.

    None of the stories about him that I saw mentioned his founding this organization.

    Great man. So down to earth.