News

1. Omicron is testing Nova Scotia’s hospitals

Halifax Infirmary emergency department in July, 2021. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

Jennifer Henderson digs into the effects of the current COVID-19 wave on the province’s hospitals, looking not just at those hospitalized with COVID-19, but also larger effects on the system.

Her lead gets right to the point:

The latest wave of COVID is putting pressure on every aspect of the health care system, including the postponement of surgeries due to lack of beds and longer than usual waits for patients arriving at overcrowded Emergency Departments.

In response to a reporter’s asking if the system is in “dire straits,” Dr. Nicole Boutilier, the vice-president of Medicine with Nova Scotia Health, says it has not reached that point.

But there are pressures: hundreds of health-care workers off work because they are sick or isolating, some 120 surgeries postponed, and, of course, outbreaks in hospitals.

Henderson writes:

347 patients in Nova Scotia hospitals today cannot return to long-term care facilities because the homes are experiencing outbreaks and the same staff shortages as hospitals due to Omicron. The ambulance service known as EHS is also experiencing staffing shortages due to COVID.

“There are 94 patients in Emergency Departments waiting for admission to hospitals today,” said Boutilier. “The number has been as high as 125 patients earlier this week. In terms of the volume this December compared to December of 2020, we had an additional 2,100 visits across the Province”.

“There are people that may have been waiting for procedures or appointments that have been postponed and need to be re-scheduled,” said Boutilier. “There are long waits in emergency rooms because of the increase in the number of people coming in. It’s very stressful for patients who are sick, and stressful for staff who come to work and want to do the best job they can.”

Boutilier said hospitals are at “near capacity” today with ICUs and most hospital floors operating at approximately 97%. If the occupancy increases much more, she anticipates more operations and outpatient appointments will need to be cancelled in the next couple of weeks due to the shortage of beds.

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2. COVID-19 case numbers stay high

Rapid Test Lineup-Changing Seasons. Illustration by Zak Markan — Instagram @zak.markan.art

In his latest COVID-19 update, Tim Bousquet reports that there were 837 new cases reported Sunday. That compares with 1,145 on Saturday and 678 on Friday.

In Bousquet’s Friday update, he offers more detailed information on hospitalization and vaccination status:

There is a total of 144 people in hospital today in Nova Scotia with COVID. Of those:
• 48 were admitted because of COVID
• 32 were admitted to hospital for other reasons, but tested positive for COVID through the admissions process
• 64 contracted COVID in the eight hospital outbreaks

The 48 people now hospitalized because of COVID have the following vaccination status:
• 6 (12.5%) have had three doses
• 25 (52.1%) have had two doses
• 2 (4.2%) have had one dose
• 15 (31.3%) are unvaccinated
Note: only 10.9% of the entire population is unvaccinated.

This is a good time to remind you of the “base rate fallacy,” which Bousquet is subtly doing by noting that only 10.9% of the entire population is unvaccinated.

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3. Government to protect Owls Head

Photo: Jennifer Henderson

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

In late November, an American couple withdrew an offer to purchase 285 hectares of crown land known as Owls Head to develop a golf course along the Eastern Shore. That appears to have been the catalyst for a decision by the Houston government to protect Owls Head as a provincial park or potential wilderness area.

“The government has committed to protecting Owls Head lands as part of its 20% land protection goal (mandated in the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act passed in October),” said Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton in an email. “The process to protect those lands is underway but we don’t have any further details to share at this stage.”

That’s good news for the 10,000-plus people who signed a formal written petition and mounted a two-year campaign to “Save Owls Head” after the previous Liberal government secretly removed the rocky coastal area from a list of 125 places being considered for future designation as parks or protected areas because of their beauty or habitat for endangered species.

In early November, NDP leader Gary Burrill introduced Bill 19, which would have required public consultation in the event any other area on the list of potential parks and protected places were to be de-listed or sold to a developer.

“The Owls Head Act provides the government this afternoon with an opportunity to plug a democratic loophole so that protected lands in future are always dealt with more transparency and visibility to the public,” said Burrill as he introduced the bill. The Progressive Conservatives voted against and defeated the bill.

The PCs are currently reviewing the process by which lands get nominated for potential protection, as well as the process by which some get formally designated as parks, wilderness areas, or protected places. Rushton has not committed to “plugging a democratic loophole” but he says the process will be improved.

“We are committed to transparency and giving the public an opportunity to provide input on how public lands are used, managed and protected,” said Rushton. “The departments of Natural Resources and Renewables and Environment and Climate Change are working together to identify the next sites and complete the necessary consultations, legal review, and surveying required to get these sites to the final stage of designation. Some areas are further along than others.”

The Examiner contacted NDP leader Gary Burrill for his response to the news the government will designate Owls Head as a protected area.

“It is hopeful that the government has committed to protecting Owls Head,” said Burrill. “It is unclear why, however, after the already extensive public consultation that led to the park’s identification for designation in the first place, the government won’t simply extend that protection now.”

Owls Head had been included in the province’s list of parks and protected areas since 2013 before being removed.

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4. Rushton on renewable energy

The coal-fired Lingan Generating Station in Cape Breton. Photo by Ken Heaton – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=89037225

This item is also written by Jennifer Henderson.

Rushton is also the minister responsible for the province meeting legislated targets to generate 40% of electricity from renewable sources by 2022. The Examiner asked Rushton if he is concerned ongoing delays in receiving the full amount of hydro from Muskrat Falls in Labrador will make that target impossible to reach. Rushton did not express any concern.

He did say the energy from Muskrat Falls is “a key component” to reach renewable energy targets and the province is taking action to find additional sources of renewable power — mostly wind but also solar — towards achieving an even more ambitious target of 80% renewables by 2030. Nova Scotia Power is currently trending at just under 30%.

Rushton expects a company hired by the previous government — CustomerFirst Renewables out of Maryland — will issue a Request for Proposals next month seeking suppliers for an additional 350 MW of renewable energy projects.

“The government is working on several initiatives to increase the amount of renewable energy,” said Rushton. “This includes:

• purchasing 10% of energy from new renewables projects in an open and independent Request for Proposals process
• expanding existing solar programming to make solar energy accessible to more Nova Scotians and the businesses
• connecting large electricity users directly with renewable energy (Green Choice Program) to allow products to be made in Nova Scotia without the use of fossil fuels and to allow organizations to complete their own divestment processes.”

Rushton said the Green Choice program will begin after the RFPs have been awarded. The Green Choice program requires new regulations to be passed.

Rushton said “once these projects are up and running, they will reduce Nova Scotia’s greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1 million tonnes each year and help towards achieving a 53 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and becoming net-zero by 2050.”

Nova Scotia is also in discussions with Quebec, the federal government, and the other Atlantic provinces about the possibility of building the “Atlantic Loop” — a new overhead transmission line to bring hydroelectricity from Quebec through New Brunswick to Nova Scotia. Emera president Scott Balfour has said it offers the best hope for being able to retire Nova Scotia’s coal-fired generating stations by 2030.

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5. Omicron, a month or so in

Photo: Tim Bousquet

Stephen Kimber offers some much-needed perspective, as he looks back on the last month of the pandemic in Nova Scotia.

On November 24, South African authorities notified the World Health Organization about a worrisome variant that had been identified in the country, Kimber writes. That variant, of course, would come to be known as Omicron. On the day the WHO was alerted to its existence, Nova Scotia reported 20 new cases of COVID-19. Then came the X-ring ceremony, daily cases in the hundreds and beyond, new restrictions — and, here we are.

Kimber writes:

I recite all this to remind myself — and you — just how much has changed in so little time. And how difficult that has been for us, but also for those whose job it is to make decisions about how we deal with this latest twist of the pandemic.

It’s easy to become frustrated by what sometimes seem like dizzying, logic-defying, ever-changing rules and policies. Schools open, schools closed. Gathering limits reduced. Testing requirements changed. Days in isolation modified. Vaccine mandates for some versus the possibility of mandating vaccinations for all. Living with COVID versus defeating it…

But it’s also worth taking a moment to consider the impact all those fat firehouses spewing the latest data, new research, old research reconsidered, previously accepted probabilities suddenly recalibrated have had — and are having — on the scientists and politicians we expect to not only make sense of it all but also to steer us safely toward safety and around the rocks of economic calamity and death.

Kimber digs into some of the contradictory information we have about Omicron, and some of the many factors to consider when it comes to schooling. (It’s quite a list; you should definitely read it.) And he ends with this, which I think is helpful:

Every decision our politicians and scientists must make involves a balancing act that never definitively balances. The people making decisions will inevitably make some wrong ones. When they do, we — as my colleague Tim has said — need to call out the mistake. But, even as we do that, we need to remember just how difficult their jobs really are, and how hard they’re working to get it right.

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6. COVID-19 cases growing exponentially at Burnside jail 

The Burnside jail. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Woodford also reports on the rapidly growing number of cases of COVID-19 recorded at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility. There are now 82 cases of the disease at the jail. 

Woodford hears from Justice Department spokesperson Heather Fairbairn: 

“None are in hospital. There are no cases in the women’s unit. As we mentioned previously, several staff members have also tested positive or are awaiting results and are self-isolating,” Fairbairn wrote [in an email]… 

There were 230 prisoners at the jail as of Thursday, and Fairbairn said three people “were approved for temporary absence/early release in the last two days.” 

Think of how bad COVID stress can be, and now imagine being in a facility where the disease is running rampant, people are in close quarters, and there is nothing you can really do to protect yourself. 

The headline on Woodford’s story says, “82 prisoners at Burnside jail have COVID-19.” There are interesting discussions around how to refer to incarcerated people/inmates/prisoners. I suspect “inmate” became more common in media at some point as it was less stigmatizing, but it is also less accurate. People can be inmates of all kinds of institutions. The Marshall Project, which works on criminal justice system issues in the US, asked how to best refer to people in jails and prisons, and received more than 200 replies, several of which are reproduced here. 

There are some interesting arguments in favour of language that doesn’t soften — including some from former prisoners: 

As someone who was a prisoner myself, “Prisoner” is the most accurate term for someone in prison … One anecdote about this: I was once disciplined fairly harshly in a California women’s prison for referring to myself as a prisoner while speaking to an officer. In our conversation, the guard interrupted me and told me I was a female inmate, and not a prisoner. He said that referring to myself as a prisoner was against rules and furthermore subversive to the order of the facility. — Kathleen Culhane 

As a journalist and convicted felon, I think a lot about the power that language has to redeem or condemn. Like a lot of reporters, I try to be thoughtful about the way I describe people, especially when I’m writing about marginalized groups. But on a personal level, I don’t care much about whether someone labels me a felon, ex-con, or formerly incarcerated person — whatever…If someone asks, I get right down to it: “I was convicted of a felony. I sat a year in jail for a burglary.” See? When facts are stated frankly, labels have much less power … I appreciate being thoughtful about the labels we apply. But the question here seems more of a concern for the advocates or social worker — less so for the convicted felon looking forward to having his civil rights restored. — Mario Koran 

And then there was this one, from a member of an abolitionist group: 

I want to recognize that the organization I work for, Black and Pink, has been conducting a survey of LGBTQ prisoners across the country [that asks this question directly], and of the nearly 1,000 respondents, there is no agreement. We offered the options of inmate, prisoner, incarcerated person, person who is incarcerated, and other. “Other” had the largest percent, with most respondents saying they simply want to be referred to by their name. The issue of language is essential, but it’s important to be clear what purpose the user of the language has. I find the term “inmate” to be intentionally depoliticizing the reality of incarceration. When Black and Pink releases a final report, we will use the term prisoner in our writing, recognizing that there is not a universal agreement amongst our membership about terminology. — Jason Lydon 

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7. The temperature drops to -19 tomorrow night, but Halifax’s emergency modular housing won’t be ready until at least March

One of the modular units being installed in Dartmouth. — Photo: halifax.ca

November. No, January. Then February. Those are the dates we’ve been told modular units for unhoused people in Halifax would be ready. And now the timeline has been pushed back to March, Zane Woodford reports. The new date comes in a staff report seeking more funding from council for the project.  

Woodford writes:  

Construction on the Halifax-side units, which will house 38 people, is now expected to start in late-January.  

“Exact timing for occupancy is dependent upon the province, which is responsible for determining placement of individuals and providing wrap-around services onsite through its service provider,” [capital projects manager Michael] MacDonald and [managing director of government relations and external affairs Paul] Johnston wrote.  

“It is anticipated the Halifax shelter will be ready for occupancy by mid-March 2022.”  

Costs have ballooned at both sites more several reasons, including “Unsuitable site material below existing parking lot asphalt” in Dartmouth, “Electrical and mechanical infrastructure costs to accommodate commercial kitchen equipment” in Halifax, and “site security” on either side.    

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Views

What is the pandemic doing to sports — and other — reporting?

Jeff Pearlman. Photo: Twitter

Sportswriter Jeff Pearlman publishes an excellent free newsletter called The Yang Slinger, and his latest issue looks at the damage the pandemic has done to sports reporting, and the fear that it may be permanent.

He starts with Tampa Bay Buccaneers player Antonio Brown’s behaviour in the middle of a recent game:

With his team trailing by double digits, Brown — standing along the sideline — removed his pads and tossed some of his equipment to nearby fans. He then stripped off his black shirt and white gloves, chucked those into the crowd, ran across the field (while the game was being played) and into the end zone, egged on spectators with a funkadelic wave/jumping jack hybrid, flashed the peace sign with his left hand and jogged off into the darkened tunnel and what is most likely1 permanent NFL unemployment.

Then, Pearlman goes into a great description of the hard slog of beat reporting, and why talking to hand-picked people over Zoom is not the same as being able to hang around and ask questions on your own. Because of the pandemic, teams have closed their locker rooms to reporters — only people who are essential can be in the room, and reporters don’t make the cut. As a result, Pearlman argues, the fans lose out. But the teams largely don’t care. Now, they can control their messages that much better:

Back during my baseball-writing days at Sports Illustrated, I had a fair share of evenings roaming post-game clubhouses on deadline. And the experience is a merging of horror show and kinetic bliss — horror show because you’re simultaneously entering the same space as your competitors; bliss because it’s electrifying. And what I loved (and still love) is hitting up the little guys for big details. I first realized this was the way to go by watching Tom Verducci, the SI gangsta, work the room. As others headed toward Jorge Posada and Roger Clemens, Tom was in a far-off corner with Homer Bush and Ricky Ledée, peeling off small details the herd all missed. That’s how you report your way through a tornado — while the hacks and wanna-be Stephen A. Smiths travel the path of least resistance, you put all those years of experience to good use. You dig.

“We still haven’t heard the real story [of Brown],” said [Rick] Stroud [of the Tampa Bay Times]. “It’s a relationship business. You build trust with access. You gain contextual perspectives. What did the security guards see when Brown stormed off the field? Did he ask a nearby police officer assigned to the locker room to drive him somewhere? What was his demeanor when he entered the tunnel? Those folks may have some insight.”

Alas …

“We’re never talking to them from the press box on Zoom.”

Pearlman says things have been moving this way for a long time. The pandemic has just made it that much worse. And if teams aren’t paying a price, why should they go back to the way things were?

In the years since I began my journalism career in 1994, access for sports writers has been steadily chipped away by owners who don’t trust/like the press, general managers who don’t trust/like the press and players and coaches who (wait for it) don’t trust/like the press. You can see it in every new and/or renovated Major League stadium, where clubhouses (once ideal meeting places for jocks and journalists) now feature 800 spots for ballplayers to hide. You can see it in the militaristic NFL, where not all that long ago writers roamed training camp fields and facilities with all-access passes and open invitations to lunch with Randy White and Ed Jones. You can certainly see it in the NBA, a league that over the past decade has cracked down on media access like no other.

I thought about this in relation to so many other aspects of reporting. Political communications have become increasingly professionalized and controlled. We go through comms people to talk to city staff. Sometimes you want to talk to the person running a project but they’ll only give you the boss instead. With fewer opportunities to take photos at events, media wind up using photos provided to them. (The Examiner’s Zane Woodford regularly and rightly pushes us to prioritize using our own photos over those provided by Communications Nova Scotia.)  Once you cut off access and people accept it, well, it’s easy to just make that the new normal.

Back to Pearlman. Again, what he says about covering teams applies to covering pretty much any beat:

If you’re reading this, and you’re not a reporter, maybe it all sounds like babyish nonsense. Wha, wha — I can’t awkwardly ask Yu Darvish and Josh Giddey questions as they strip down into a towel. Wha, wha. Which, from afar, makes sense. But the thing about covering teams — about really covering teams — is it comes down to access. To building trust. To shooting the shit. It’s about finding two or three or four or five go-to sources who can tell you what’s up and what’s down; what’s left and what’s right. Those are the ways great stories turn into great stories. You bust your ass fighting to establish connections, and then — when needed — those connections hook you up. As a baseball writer (and even as an author) I have a handful of go-to peeps. We all do.

But now, under Covid guidelines, that’s dead. In the four major sports, the vast majority of post-game interviews are via Zoom (or, in some cases, miniature live press conferences). The team PR staff picks out the two or three players who will appear, and all journalists share that material. Cultivating sources — goodbye. Angling to ask a solo question after the crowd of rivals disperses —goodbye, too. Original reporting — (largely) goodbye…

Said Alan Shipnuck, the veteran golf writer: “It sucks. Totally sucks. Every other sport is contained within a stadium, and all those sports have very clear places for players to move from A to B to C. A golf course is 150 acres, so you could always get guys during a practice round, walk with them and talk. Well, no more. That’s been taken away. You can’t get inside the ropes anymore. The putting green, the parking lot — all the spots you could get guys have vanished. We used to have open locker rooms. We’ll never get that back. And the coverage will really suffer.”

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Noticed

Council minutes from 1912, as seen at halifaxpubliclibraries.ca

Let me point you to this delightful blog post on the minutes of municipal council meetings. Yes, you read that correctly.

The blog is by Halifax municipal archives assistant Elena Cremonese. The archives have digitized all pre-amalgamation council minutes from the regions that now make up HRM  — and they are searchable. This, of course, is an incredible resource for anyone interested in local history, among other things. (I immediately went to look up my community, and saw the approval of a zoning change that allowed the establishment of the campground nearby.)

But what makes Cremonese’s post delightful is her discussion of old minutes, and how much more information used to be recorded in minutes.  She writes:

If you had told me a few years ago that I would have passionate feelings about meeting minutes, I don’t think I would have believed you. I probably couldn’t have given you an accurate description of what City Council meetings look like, or had any sense of what a vast array of meeting minutes there can be — city councils, committees, activist groups, working groups, and on and on.

Cremonese gives us examples of some wonderfully testy exchanges in the minutes. She also says they are great for finding answers to questions like whether there was ever a circus on the Halifax Common. It turns out that indeed there was:

Early on in my time at the Archives, a researcher asked if there had ever been a circus on the Halifax Common, specifically in 1912 —though if I recall correctly, 1911 or 1913 would have been acceptable as well. (Unrelated but still sort of on topic, I’ve also turned to the minutes for questions about monkeys in the Public Gardens and elephants buried in the City Dump – alas, no luck.) The circus search, on the other hand, was successful! I was able to inform the researcher that on June 8, 1912, the Gardens Commission agreed to lease part of the Halifax Common to Col. Francis Ferari’s Trained Wild Animal Arena for 6 days beginning on July 1. Predictably this led me down a rabbit hole of learning more about Colonel Francis Ferari, because who could help it when coming across a name like that? Sometimes when I walk through the Halifax Common I try to imagine what it would have looked like to attend the Trained Wild Animal Arena.

As for my personal fascination, there are some real gems in Council discussions. I’ve turned to the minutes to try to answer all sorts of weird and wonderful questions from researchers — as well as to satisfy curious musings from friends and coworkers — and I am always delighted when something useful turns up.

I can assure you I am going to be spending some time searching through these minutes in the moths ahead and I’ll report back on any interesting finds.

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Government

City

Monday

No meetings

Tuesday

Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 1pm) — on YouTube

Province

Monday

No meetings

Tuesday

Health (Tuesday, 1pm) — video conference: Impacts of Staffing Shortages in Long-Term Care, with representatives from the Department of Seniors and Long-Term Care, Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union, and CUPE Nova Scotia


On campus

Dalhousie

Phd Defence (Monday, 1pm) — Louise Sennett of the Department of Plant, Food and Environmental Sciences


In the harbour

Halifax
05:00: Atlantic Sun, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
06:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Palm Beach, Florida
08:00: CMA CGM Brazil, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Norfolk, Virginia
09:30: MSC Donata, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
10:00: Augusta Unity, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 31 from Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
10:00: Crimson Queen, bulker, arrives at anchorage from Saint John
13:00: East Coast, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
15:00: Ebroborg, bulker, arrives at Sheet Harbour from New Haven, Connecticut
15:30: CMA CGM Thalassa, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Port Klang, Malaysia
18:30: Tropic Hope sails for sea
20:30: Atlantic Sun sails for New York

Cape Breton
09:00: NS Corona, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
11:00: NS Consul, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from Ras Lanuf, Lybia


Footnotes

I’ve written before about how crosswords aren’t just fun games — they also are a reflection of world-views and even political viewpoints. For instance, back in the fall the AVX crossword used the clue “Peaceful protest, as the cops often describe it,” and the answer was “RIOT.”

This morning’s New York Times crossword — if you are a solver who has not done it yet, spoiler ahead — offers a far more insidious example, with CLEAN COAL clued as “greener energy source.” I was enjoying the puzzle up until that point, and then thought, what the hell? Even worse, crossword constructor Lynn Lempel wrote that her original clue, which the editorial team did not like, was “Dubious term for a greener energy source.” I would suggest though, that what’s dubious is not the term, but the claim.


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Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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  1. Regarding the article on sports reporting: It’s not just COVID driving this trend. Check out the book The Velvet Rope Economy by Nelson Schwartz. He devotes a big section to how pro sports stadiums are being built to deliberately limit access to players and the games to the few elite customers who can pay a premium price for the privilege.