Premier Stephen McNeil (l) and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang, at the COVID-19 briefing, Wednesday, June 3, 2020. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

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The province’s COVID-19 media briefing on Wednesday was heavily focused on Friday’s reopening of services like salons, barber shops, spas and dine-in restaurants shut down since March.

“Today’s another good day in terms of cases,” Premier Stephen McNeil said, opening the briefing with the announcement that Nova Scotia had identified one new case of the virus.

The province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang said the new case was in the Eastern Zone, and that person’s exposure was due to travel outside of Nova Scotia. 

“Fortunately, this individual followed public health protocol and was in self isolation from the time they returned to the province and so had minimal exposure for the time they may have been infectious,” Strang said. 

As of Wednesday, Nova Scotia has had 1,058 confirmed cases of the virus. There have been 60 deaths. Three people are in the hospital and one of them is in ICU. To date there have been 43,340 negative test results. 

After providing the numbers and reiterating that negative test results will now be sent via email, Strang said he’s “hearing lots of good things” and seeing protocols being implemented for the province’s reopening and recovery. He reminded people to follow all public health measures implemented at establishments that are reopening, to expect line-ups, and be prepared for things to be different than they were pre-COVID.

“I know lots of Nova Scotians are looking forward to Friday to potentially enjoy a meal or just simply being outside of their home, but I want to remind people to make sure they have appropriate expectations of that,” he said. “Your experience will be quite a bit different. Whether you’re going to a restaurant, whether you’re going to a hair salon, whether you continue to go shopping, your experience will look different.”

Strang said restaurant patrons can expect tables to be further apart to ensure the six-foot distancing requirement. There will also be public health measures in place to support better handwashing and to control how people move around in a restaurant or bar space. In addition, limitations will be placed on activities like entertainment and dancing. 

He also took the opportunity to clear up what he described as misunderstandings people may have about going to restaurants and bars with friends or family. He said the physical distancing requirement and rules around household and family bubbles “haven’t changed” and pertain to restaurants and bars just like everywhere else.

While people could sit at a table in groups of up to 10 people, unless those people are in your “bubble,” you must be separated by six feet, something that’s not likely at a single table. He continued:

We’re not yet ready to have people from multiple different households come together, sit at a single table in a restaurant. So if you are making plans to go out, you have to make sure that…if you’re going to sit at the same table, it is within your household or within your household bubble. You could certainly go with other people and sit at different tables and say hello to each other from six feet apart. But who you sit with at the single table, it needs to be within your household or your household bubble.

So planning who you go out with and how you go out needs to be more thoughtful and it is a key part of our moving forward and our living with COVID when you’re going out for other things, whether it’s other recreation or or cultural opportunities, whether you’re just going out for shopping, it’s important you think about who you’re going with and the setting that you’re going to be meeting at and what particular rules might be associated around that specific setting. It is important that you understand as you go out there’s going to be lots of things that are going to be helping you maintain social distance, helping you wash your hands.

He urged Nova Scotians to be patient with each other and work together to minimize the chance of COVID-19 returning. He also reminded people to stay home if they’re not feeling well and complete the 811 online assessment for the virus.

Global News’ Alicia Draus asked McNeil for his thoughts on the province being added to the list of defendants for the class action lawsuit launched against Northwood. 

“I haven’t been involved or following what took place around the class action lawsuit but frankly the lawyers will deal with that,” McNeil replied. 

“My job is to focus on the public health of Nova Scotians, continue to build towards the economy reopening. That’s what I’ve been focused on and we’ll continue to focus on that. Friday is a big day for Nova Scotians, and we want to continue to make sure that we’re answering those questions.”

The CBC’s Preston Mulligan asked Strang what markers and epidemiological data he’d be looking at when determining whether it’s safe to send students from P to 12 back to schools in September.

“We haven’t started a conversation yet about public schools. It’s coming very soon. I know…We’ve got some meetings coming up in the next couple of weeks, understanding that we’re very busy focusing on getting to Friday,” Strang said. “And then we’re focusing on working on our daycares who are coming soon. But we, you know, so we haven’t had a detailed conversation yet about schools.”

Lyndsay Armstrong with All NovaScotia asked Strang about the likelihood of postponing municipal elections slated for October due to a second wave, and what changes or increases in positive cases would result in him making that decision. 

Strang said although he’s been asked to engage with Elections Nova Scotia, he’s had to push it off for “a couple of weeks” because he’s had more urgent matters to deal with. Ultimately, he said no decision on elections or schools can be made at this early stage due to the need for epidemiological data. 

“But we will be looking for a conversation around elections coming soon. A lot of those conversations will lay out some principles and then we’re going to have to see…as we’ve opened up, what are the next few weeks and into the summer months, what do they actually look like,” Strang said. 

“And we…can start to talk about some public health principles about how we run elections or schools, whatever it is, in a safe manner. But you have to actually allow some time for the epidemiology to evolve before you make a final decision.”

The premier was asked a question about employees refusing to go back to work because they’re earning more on the federal government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Katie Hartai of News 95.7 asked McNeil how small businesses are supposed to deal with the issue.

McNeil described it as one of the challenges he’s heard from small business owners across the reason, adding the province has communicated that to the federal government. He encouraged Nova Scotians to return to work rather than continue on the CERB program, continuing: 

It’s certainly been challenging that when people are receiving more income to stay home than come to work, people are making that choice to stay home. We’ll see our way through this. I strongly encourage all Nova Scotians to take the opportunity to go back to work. While it may have a short term impact, your hard work and effort in the businesses that you are working with will determine the long term future of that business and quite frankly your long term employment. Let’s not look about this in the short term. Let’s look about this in the long term. And every business needs its employees to go back to work, to help with the viability, and that means that business will be there for years to come and not just for the next few months when we know that CERB program is going to run out.

McNeil ended the briefing by sharing his observations watching the city prepare for the reopening of businesses. He also congratulated restaurants, breweries, and wine stores that developed a new delivery and takeout model that included the delivery of alcohol during COVID in order to stay afloat. 

He told those establishments they will be permitted to continue offering that service. 

“It has gone well and it’s worked for your business model. So I want to let you know you can keep doing that, if you want,” he said. 

McNeil encouraged Nova Scotians to think, buy, and support their local businesses. He also said while he recognizes that many Nova Scotians are nervous about Friday’s reopening, it’s important to get the economy moving again. He said the province is taking it slow, reducing capacity and ensuring protocols are in place. He urged everyone to follow those protocols. 

He further added that with two days left before the province reopens, he and Strang “are feeling very positive” about where we are. 

“But I want to reassure everyone testing will continue, and if we see any sign of a problem or a case spike, we will take immediate action,” he said. 

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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  1. “While it may have a short term impact, your hard work and effort in the businesses that you are working with will determine the long term future of that business and quite frankly your long term employment. Let’s not look about this in the short term. Let’s look about this in the long term.”

    An offensive statement on so many levels. People should accept low wages for the benefit of the business, as the only alternative is no work. And long term thinking of a privilege of wealth. People with low and unreliable incomes are forced to consider the short term – groceries today, a bill due tomorrow.

  2. Of course the idea of a living wage would never enter MacNeil’s thick skull regarding the employees not wanting to go back to a job in a province that offers one of the most dismal minimum wages in the country.