Premier Tim Houston (left) and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang at the COVID briefing, Nov. 17., 2021. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

Jump to sections in this article:
Overview of today’s cases
Vaccination
Demographics
Testing
Potential exposure advisories

Robert Smith, the pastor of the Gospel Light Baptist Church in Amherst and host of the “Bordertown Campmeeting” held from October 25-29,, has been fined for “a gathering which contravened the COVID-19 order under the Health Protection Act.”

The fine is $2,422.

The current COVID outbreak in the Amherst area and in the Annapolis Valley started at the camp meeting, where about 100 people gathered, many of them unvaccinated and not wearing masks. The outbreak has led directly to three deaths — two residents of the East Cumberland Lodge long-term care home in Pugwash, and one resident of Rupert House, a home for people with intellectual disabilities.

Yesterday, CBC reporter Taryn Grant reported that Smith said from the pulpit that the outbreak that started at the camp meeting was “unfortunate,” but  all part of God’s plan:

“I followed what God wanted us to do,” Smith said from the pulpit. “We had a great week of meetings … a young lady got saved.”

Several times throughout his 30-minute sermon, Smith said people are trying to shame his community, but he urged his parishioners to resist internalizing the feeling, saying it’s Satan, “trying to drag us down.”

“The Bible says ‘all things work together for good.’ Hey, some of the things, people that we know that’s in hospitals and stuff, that still applies, too,” he said.

At today’s COVID briefing, Premier Tim Houston minced no words in criticizing Smith.

“Like many of you, I am absolutely appalled at the comments of some of those who were allegedly involved in organizing this gathering,” said Houston. “The comments downplaying the seriousness of what’s happening. The comments minimizing the loss of life are completely unacceptable and totally disgusting. Lives were lost. I can’t imagine that at this stage in the pandemic, with the devastation we’ve seen to families and communities that we have people who believe that they can pick and choose which rules they follow.”

The fine charge against Smith was laid by the provincial Department of Environment and Climate Change, and not by the Amherst Police Department, which has been investigating the camp meeting. I asked Houston if the province took action because the local police did not.

“I can’t understand honestly why the police haven’t advanced their investigation or taken up on that file,” replied Houston. “But yeah, to answer your question; yes, the compliance and enforcement part group of Department Environment is kind of a backstop to to the to the police the police should be doing. They’re doing their job, they should be enforcing the laws… I will say that I certainly put a lot of pressure on them to make sure that that investigation happened.”

Houston additionally said the province is investigating laying more charges, and he’d like to a review to see if the charges are sufficiently high.

Chief Medical Officer of Health echoed Houston’s condemnation of the camp meeting. “I am both angry and frustrated,” said Strang. “People chose not to get vaccinated. They gathered with both vaccinated and unvaccinated people against existing rules, and these choices have had significant impacts upon others. I understand that no one intended for this to happen, but if we give COVID-19 a chance to spread it will and as we know, it can be deadly. To those who say that are proof of vaccination protocol and other public health measures infringe on your freedoms, I’d say that freedoms come with responsibilities. Your personal freedom has well-established ethical and legal boundaries when it creates significant risks to others in a pandemic.”

Much of the spirited press conference saw Houston and Strang fending off suggestions that the rules around faith-based gatherings are not sufficient, but Strang insisted that the three recent outbreaks among religious groups — Mennonites in the Northern and Western zones a few weeks ago, Muslims in the HRM more recently, and the camp meeting fallout — are not indicative of such a problem.

“We had this event [the camp meeting], we’re talking about clearly noncompliance and that spread to a number of other churches and was spread within those churches,” said Strang. “[The Mennonites] don’t believe in vaccination by and large had very low vaccination rate. The ongoing spread in HRM [the Muslims] involves — it’s complex, it’s not just the faith community, it’s more complex.”

“But if you look at the [large number of] regular services at churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, we are not seeing those regular services as any significant drivers of transmission of the virus,” he continued. The vast majority of faith organizations are working really hard to follow the public health rules. There’s been some outliers. We need to deal with the outliers, not not paint everybody in the faith community with the same brush, because the epidemiology does not justify that taking a broad brush approach to this on that.”

Nova Scotia announced 20 new cases of COVID-19 today, Wednesday, November 17.

By Nova Scotia Health zone, the new cases break down as:
• 8 Central
• 6 Northern
• 6 Western
• 0 Eastern

There are now 236 known active cases in the province. Seventeen people are in hospital with the disease, seven of whom are in ICU. Thirty-six people are considered newly recovered, which means they are no longer contagious and not necessarily that they aren’t sick.


Vaccination

There is a significant one-day increase in vaccination numbers, because the Dept. of Health has added people who received one or both doses of vaccine out of province to the Nova Scotia numbers. Those people began uploading their proof of vaccination on Nov. 4, and they show up today.

This means that by end of day yesterday, 84.5% of the entire population have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 80.7% have received at least two doses.

People 12 years old and older can also book a vaccination appointment 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.


Demographics

By age cohort, yesterday’s new cases break down as:
• 6 are aged 0-11
• 1 is aged 12-19
• 7 are aged 20-39
• 4 are aged 40-59
• 2 are aged 60-79
• 0 are aged 80 or older

The active cases across the province are distributed as follows:

Central Zone
• 51 in the Halifax Peninsula/Chebucto Community Health Network
• 13 in the Dartmouth/Southeastern Community Health Network
• 42 in the Bedford/Sackville Community Health Network
• 2 in the Eastern Shore/Musquodoboit Community Health Network
• 1 in the West Hants Community Health Network
• 11 not assigned to a Community Health Network
Total: 120

Eastern Zone
• 3 in the Cape Breton Community Health Network
• 0 in the Inverness, Victoria & Richmond Community Health Network
• 2 in the Antigonish & Guysborough Community Health Network
Total: 5

Northern Zone
• 20 in the Colchester/East Hants Community Health Network
• 1 in the Pictou Community Health Network
• 55 in the Cumberland Community Health Network
Total: 75

Western Zone
• 13 in the Annapolis and Kings Community Health Network
• 12 in the Lunenburg & Queens Community Health Network
• 10 in the Yarmouth, Shelburne & Digby Community Health Network
Total: 35


Testing

Nova Scotia Health labs completed 3,422 PCR tests yesterday. This does not include the antigen tests administered at the pop-up testing sites.

You do not need a health card to get tested.

Pop-up testing (antigen testing) is for asymptomatic people over 16 who have not been to the potential COVID exposure sites (see map below); results usually within 20 minutes. Pop-up testing has been scheduled for the following sites:

Wednesday
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Alderney Gate, 10am-2pm

Thursday
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm

Friday
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm

You can volunteer to work at the pop-up testing sites here or here. No medical experience is necessary.

You can also get PCR testing at the Nova Scotia Health labs by going here. Appointments can be made for the IWK, or for various locations in each of the health zones (appointments may not be available at each site).


Potential exposure advisories

Nova Scotia Health issued several potential COVID exposure advisories over the yesterday, and four new school exposures.

We’ve collected all the active advisories for potential COVID exposures on bus routes and flights here. I’ll be adding schools to the map tonight.

The updated potential COVID exposure advisory map is below; you can zoom in and click on the coronavirus icons to get information about each site.


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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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  1. “…I can’t understand honestly why the police haven’t advanced their investigation or taken up on that file,…”

    If the rules were clear and since other religious organizations apparently abided by them, then I can understand Houston’s frustration with delays in enforcement – especially given the resulting unnecessary loss of life. I can also understand how reported combative responses from Robert Smith might aggravate that further.

    I’m told the local police are still investigating.
    There may possibly be unpublicized underlying factors that have drawn out that investigation in what may otherwise seem like an open and shut case.

    In the meantime, I’ll bet that Houston is articulating the views of many (perhaps most?) people regarding a senseless tragedy.

  2. A politician putting pressure on police to conduct an investigation is inappropriate and should be condemned.