Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang at the COVID briefing, November 17, 2020. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

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Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health says the province is at a turning point in dealing with a potential second wave of COVID-19. Three new cases were announced today for a total of 24 active cases. That’s in addition to two cases announced yesterday evening concerning two students at two schools who tested positive. Strang said the number of cases identified in November (42) is now double the 21 cases the province saw in October.

“We are starting to see community spread,” said Dr. Robert Strang at today’s COVID briefing. “Travel is not the primary cause of all the cases we have in the province. We have had seven cases where we cannot identify a source related to travel, so we have to conclude this may be from local transmission. This is very concerning and an important turn of events for Nova Scotia.”

While Nova Scotia’s numbers remain tiny compared with provinces outside the Atlantic region, Strang said they have the potential to grow rapidly unless people reduce how often they go out and how many people with whom they interact. (Not more than 10 people indoors at any one time, repeated Strang, and greater vigilance around wearing masks and staying home if you have any symptoms). He then launched into a passionate appeal directed at young adults “do the right thing”.

“The current outbreak is really focussed around people age 18-35. It’s a group that’s mobile and very social and I know people are just trying to have some normal social life,” said Strang. “But I am going to appeal to young people directly. You might think you are healthy but please think about how you might be putting other people at risk. We need you to step up and be a leader so we can get back to a normal life much sooner.”

Still few explanations

Fifteen new cases have been identified by Public Health since last Friday, November 13. 

Strang acknowledging some challenges with contact tracing. He said 100 additional people are being recruited to beef up the contact tracing effort but did not provide an answer when asked how many people are employed at this moment. 

Both Strang and the Premier Stephen McNeil praised the efficiency with which Graham Creighton Junior High and Auburn High School managed to notify more than 50 students and nine teachers who are now self-isolating for the next 14 days after one at each school tested positive for the virus Monday. 

Only the students and teachers notified by the schools are considered “close contacts.” Strang urged other parents not to withdraw their kids from the schools, where additional cleaning has been and continues to be carried out. He also asked employers to understand why employees who are parents of affected students will not be able to come into work. 

“The best way to keep schools safe is to keep the general community safe,” said Strang. 

Earlier information from Public Health that linked certain cases to “clusters” in Clayton Park area or The Bitter End cocktail bar on Argyle Street now appears to have been incomplete.

“We need to move our focus away from individual clusters and say we have this network of people who are linked through where they live, where they work, and where they socialize,” explained Strang. “They are all interacting with each other, this 18-35 year age group. Certainly we know the cases that are in the two schools are linked back to these other clusters through adults who were in a workplace.”

That last sentence raises as many questions as it answers. What workplace remains a mystery. Over the past week, Public Health has identified gyms in Clayton Park, East Preston, and downtown Halifax as locations where someone has tested positive for COVID. Three popular bars in downtown Halifax — The Bitter End, The Local, and the Economy Shoe Shop — have also had potential exposure warnings. 

Asked by the Halifax Examiner if the two cases at schools in Cole Harbour and Cherry Brook were connected to a reported potential exposure November 9 at a basketball court in the East Preston Rec Centre, Strang said Public Health officials found no such link. 

“When I was briefed on this last night, there is nothing to suggest that connection,” he said. “There are four individuals who were potentially exposed during a casual basketball event in that Rec Centre. There is nothing to suggest the individuals in the school cases are in any way part of that event.”

The question was asked because of the gym’s geographic proximity to the two schools. Earlier in his briefing, Strang said he had been “hearing things” that some groups were barring or “stigmatizing” certain individuals from participating in activities based on suspicion they may have been exposed to the virus. Strang made a plea that “community groups not take their own actions to prevent people from participating in their activities unless contacted by Public Health.”

Both Strang and McNeil agreed that a lockdown like last spring is not inevitable, if people narrow their social circles and limit social activities right now.

“We are certainly not opening up the Atlantic Bubble,” said McNeil. “We are seeing community spread in Metro Halifax…we will not hesitate, if required, to shut down the economy in sections. I live in Annapolis County. We all should recognize that this virus is next door, believe that it is, and act accordingly.” 

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Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. Twice on Friday nights in September we’d come home to 20-50 Dal students partying in the middle of the street. The police had disbanded the house parties so they’d slowly meander through the neighborhood. Apparently the parties would charge a cover so that when the host was given the ticket it was ready to be paid. It’s been quieter as the temperatures have dropped but it doesn’t appear any of these events resulted in pandemic related tickets, just noise violations for the host. We’ve been lucky with viral spread so far but there’s a cohort of students in HRM that are at high risk for increased spread.

  2. We needed a shutdown a week ago. Strong decisive leadership is essential if we are to avoid misery.
    Treat the threat of COVID as if it is an insurrection.