NEWS

1. Respiratory illnesses, hospitals, and COVID deaths

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang speaks at a press conference on Nov. 17, 2022. Credit: Tim Bousquet

At a press conference yesterday, Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang explained that a combination of an early influenza season and an increase in cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are putting a crunch on hospitals.

Globally, the flu season has arrived six to eight weeks earlier than usual, said Strang. Flu typically hits the southern hemisphere first, then crosses Canada from west to east, so Nova Scotia can know what to expect before the worst of it hits here.

“We need to be prepared that this may continue for the next two to three months, although we can take some hope from the fact that while Australia had an early influenza season, it was not prolonged or more severe than usual and the highest rates that were seen in Australia were in children and adolescents,” said Strang.

Dr. Andrew Lynk, Chief and Chair of Pediatrics at the IWK, speaks at a press conference on Nov. 17, 2022. Credit: Tim Bousquet

Across the province, from Yarmouth to Sydney, and at the IWK, acute care services for children are stretched, stretched, stretched,” said Dr. Andrew Lynk, Chief and Chair of Pediatrics at the IWK. “And we also have staffing challenges as well as the high numbers that are coming to see us right now. These are at historic levels that I’ve never seen before in my career here since 1990 as a young pediatrician.”

“Normally, a very busy 24-hour shift at the IWK Emergency Department would be 120, 140 kids,” continued Lynk. That would be very, very busy. [But now] we’re consistently hitting between 150 and 180, even up to 200. And it’s a big challenge. Parents are having to wait hours and hours and hours and hours unless your child is extremely sick. So, in that causes frustration and moral distress for everybody involved. And based on what’s happening right now in Ontario and Quebec, in the children’s hospital there, they’ve got the full force of influenza on them. We’re just starting to see that in the last week or so here. So, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Lynk said that as of yet, no children have died from respiratory illness this season.

Both Strang and Lynk stressed the importance of masking in crowded indoor places, but Strang characterized a mask mandate as a “distraction.”

“Mask mandates were used at a specific time during the pandemic when there were high levels of circulating virus and a population which was very susceptible to disease,” explained Strang. “That is no longer the case. We have high COVID 19 vaccine coverage in Nova Scotia, and many people may also have had natural infection.”

He continued:

For mask mandates to be effective, there needs to be widespread public buy-in and we no longer have that in Nova Scotia and across Canada. And also mask mandates can only apply in public places. And what Public Health is seeing now is that much of the transmission of respiratory viruses is happening in settings where mass mandates would not apply anyway, like a private gathering in a home. My medical officer of health team who are the ones involved on the front line reviewing all the case, follow up with COVID and seeing the patterns of transmission continue to emphasize this point to me. And I’ve discussed masking mandates with this team and we were in strong agreement that at this time masking mandates would not be necessary or effective. 

Strang said the best way to control the spread of both COVID and the flu is for people to get vaccinated. Lynk said said that “herd immunity” requires that about 80% of the population be vaccinated, and Strang said that right now just 40% of the population has received the flu vaccine.

Besides vaccines, Strang said people should be cautious when they have flu-like symptoms, by staying home if possible and if not, by wearing masks.

“And I’m asking others such as employers to support this as much as possible,” said Strang. “For instance, with opportunities for virtual work, paid sick or family illness leave, and other considerations. And also, I need to ask employers, please stop asking people for sick notes. This is an unnecessary pressure on the health care system.”

After Strang said that, an employee of Nova Scotia Health told me that Nova Scotia Health itself requires a doctor’s note for any sick leave exceeding three days

And, as the NDP Health critic, MLA Susan LeBlanc pointed out after the press conference, the province does not mandate that employers provide guaranteed sick leave.

Later in the day, the weekly COVID numbers were released.

Weekly reported COVID deaths in Nova Scotia since January.

Nova Scotia is reporting 16 new deaths recorded in the most recent reporting week, Nov. 8-15. Just one of the deaths happened in that week, the other 15 are from pervious weeks. Undoubtedly, there will be more deaths from the reporting period, which will be reported in future updates.

Through the pandemic, 632 people in Nova Scotia have died from COVID, 520 of which are considered Omicron deaths (since Dec. 8, 2021).

The details of the newly reported deaths won’t be released until Dec. 15, but in general, nearly all of the COVID deaths are people aged 70 and over, and about half are people living in nursing homes.

I had this exchange about COVID deaths with Strang yesterday:

Bousquet: Going back to COVID, it’s been long three years… at the beginning of the pandemic, COVID expressed itself most terribly at Northwood and 50 or so seniors died, and there was widespread public anguish and concern about that. We’re now at a stage, post-vaccine, post everything else, when we’re having basically a Northwood every month of about 50 seniors dying from COVID. And it seems like no one cares. Can you speak to that? I mean, is it now just that we expect that 50 people, 50 old people will die every month and, oh, well, that’s the way it goes, let’s get on with life. Or should there be a different conversation happening? 

Strang: So, you raise a really interesting and important question. I know I care. And my colleagues, Dr. Lynk and everybody in the health care system certainly care. The challenge is, is that, you know, the very frail elderly are very vulnerable to respiratory viruses. We had — and this is not to diminish those deaths — but we had numbers of people, probably on average, it’s estimated at least 4,000 Canadians die every flu season. There was never much attention on that, pre-COVID. So, it’s a reality, and an objective in public health for COVID and moving forward for all these respiratory viruses, we’re working as hard as we can to decrease severe illness and death. 

For COVID, for the pandemic, we used very strong, specific measures that we would never contemplate, never, ever thought we would need and would never have got the acceptance from Nova Scotians Canadians to use for an annual flu season. That was very different — those tools we used for in a pandemic where we had a totally new virus, lots of unknowns and very little immunity. So, now we’re in a space where we have COVID, flu, RSV, other viruses, which are serious issues, especially for the very young and very old, that we need to — I would argue we didn’t take serious enough pre-COVID. What we need to do is take them more seriously collectively. And today is a good example. It’s not about necessarily — because to actually control those viruses to the point where seniors aren’t at risk, we’d have to shut our society down every respiratory season. That is not possible or feasible.

So we need to find a balance. And part of that balance is everybody being more respectful, if I could use that word, of respiratory viruses and they themselves not may be at risk of severe disease, but all their actions have an impact on how much at risk their grandmother is, their very young, young niece might be. So, we all need to step up and say, I need to do things for others in my community. And part of that is this multi-layered approach, which indicates that we have to take respiratory viruses more respectfully and seriously. 

Bousquet: Given that, still about half the COVID deaths happened in nursing homes. A very large number, hundreds probably, are people who caught COVID in hospital. So isn’t there a Public Health responsibility to better manage those long-term care facilities and hospitals such that COVID isn’t being spread in those institutions as opposed to out here in the world where, you know, whatever happens, happens?

Strang: So, a couple of points. We take that very seriously. There have been significant investments in the health care system in terms of infection control in the last couple of years, in terms of minimizing the spread of respiratory viruses and other infectious organisms. And in particular, we worked very closely with our long-term care colleagues over the last two years in building capacity and support for infection control. The reality is, though, the very strict measures that we used that really prevented much impact on long-term care facilities. Recognizing Northwood. Those had their own substantive impacts. 

And one of the my biggest concerns is that, the first two years of the pandemic, we had major impacts on on the health of seniors in long term care facilities by isolating them — many, many stories. So I don’t think we can talk about seniors living in long term care and focus only on viruses. We need to look at them collectively and say, how do we find a balance? And ultimately, there is going to be some level of risk. But we work to minimize those risks— but looking at all the risks and looking at both their physical and mental health, in a comprehensive way. 

As well, in the Nov. 8-14 reporting period, 33 people were hospitalized because of COVID.

Nova Scotia Health reported the COVID hospitalization status as of yesterday:
• in hospital for COVID: 32 (5 of whom are in ICU)
• in hospital for something else but have COVID: 130
• in hospital who contracted COVID after admission to hospital: 76

These figures do not include any (if any) children hospitalized with COVID at the IWK. Strang said yesterday he would work to get the IWK figures released in future updates.

As for new cases, who knows? The most recent update says there were just 552 lab-confirmed (PCR tests) new cases for the reporting week, a new low for the year. And at the press conference yesterday, Strang said that “our COVID activity is actually quite low and it continues to decline.”

But at the very same press conference, Lynk said that “COVID is still with us. I think one in 40 Nova Scotians are actively infected right now.” That would equate to about 25,000 active cases of COVID in the province right now.

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2. Greenhouses

The current greenhouses on Sackville Street. Credit: Google Street View
A screenshot from Pace’s presentation to the committee shows the plans for the new greenhouse. Credit: HRM/Robert Pace

“Councillors are considering putting $2.5 million toward a new greenhouse for the Halifax Public Gardens,” reports Zane Woodford:

Robert Pace, chair of the Public Gardens Foundation board, presented the idea to council’s Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee on Thursday.

Pace is proposing to tear down the existing greenhouse and replace it with a Victorian-style, 10,000-12,000-square foot greenhouse that’s open to the public year-round. Underground, there would be space to house maintenance equipment for the outdoor gardens across the street. The project would be done by the summer of 2024.

“Something that looks majestic would be fitting with what’s presently there,” he said.

Pace is looking for $2.5 million from each of the three levels of government toward what he estimates is an $8-million project. Federal politicians are “enthusiastically in support” of contribution, Pace said, and he’s had the same response from the province. He’d raise the remaining $500,000.

Coun. Waye Mason expressed concern for the horses next door, and the financing of the project. The issue has been sent to committee for further study.

Click here to read “Councillors consider proposal to replace ‘unsightly greenhouses’ at Halifax Public Gardens.”

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3. Living wage

Cyclesmith on Agricola Street in Halifax implemented a living wage policy in September 2021. Credit: Cyclesmith

“The owner of a bicycle shop in Halifax says business is good and he’s retaining and attracting staff a year after implementing a living wage policy at his business,” reports Suzanne Rent: 

Andrew Feenstra is the owner of Cyclesmith on Agricola Street. He implemented the living wage policy in September 2021.  The living wage at that time was $21.80/hour. 

“It works and it’s better for everybody. We are retaining our best staff and attracting even better staff,” Feenstra told the Examiner on Thursday, during Living Wage Week. “Paying people a proper wage works.” 

Feenstra has 36 staff at the shop, including about five employees who are part time and are paid the living wage. In 2020, Feenstra said he had 19 staff at the shop.

And business is good, too. 

“We’re lucky. People continue to want to ride bikes,” Feenstra said. “We attract a lot of great staff and wages are one thing, but also a great place to work is another thing. That makes a difference. And having great staff means customers get great service. That gets passed along to the next customer and their friends, so the business continues to grow.” 

In the months after he implemented the policy, Feenstra they had customers come to the shop because they heard the staff get a living wage.  

“People came in and would definitely mention it,” Feenstra. “We’ve also had new customers who mentioned it as well.” 

Click here to read “One year with living wage policy, business booming, staff happy at Halifax bike shop.”

I’m a possible customer. I’ve been trying to rehabilitate my knees for running, but it might be time to give up on the idea. If so, I’ll buy a trail bike in the spring, and precisely because of its living wage policy, I’l be heading to Cyclesmith. I’m just one person, but there must be many more people who want to spend their money in businesses that support employees.

From time to time, we at the Examiner find reason to hire part-time workers for short-term projects. They are paid a living wage as well.

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4. Doman suing HRM over alleged assault by Wilson

Halifax Regional Police Const. Jason Wilson at a Police Review Board hearing in Dartmouth on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. Credit: Zane Woodford

“The complainant in a police review board case that started this week is also suing Halifax Regional Municipality,” reports Zane Woodford:

Susan Doman has alleged Const. Jason Wilson slammed her to the floor with two hands around her neck during an April 2021 arrest in Halifax.

The Halifax Examiner has reported on Doman’s case at the Nova Scotia Police Review Board this week. Three officers have testified so far with slightly varying stories, and the hearing is expected to continue next week.

But well before the hearing began, Doman also filed a notice of action in Nova Scotia Supreme Court. Lawyer Mike Dull filed a statement of claim on her behalf in April.

Click here to read “Complainant in police review board case also suing Halifax.”

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Here’s the Halifax Examiner’s tax return

The Halifax Examiner asks you, readers, to give us money. Our annual subscription drive is continuing right now, and this is the main time for bringing in revenue and understanding what we can spend next year.

Since we’re asking you for money, and since we’re additionally receiving public money through the Canadian journalism labour tax credit, we feel it’s important to show you what we spend our money on. That’s why, unlike any other local media organization, we publish our annual tax return.

Below is the summary of our tax return for the 2021 fiscal year, ending Dec. 31, 2021.

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

As you can see, our biggest expenses were for salaries ($216,600) and freelance contracts ($105,405). I am now paid $43,264 a year — so I am the lowest paid full-time employee, although part-timers and freelancers are paid less. (I had other personal income not related to the Examiner, but my Examiner pay will soon have to increase somewhat.)

After labour, the next biggest cost in 2021 was the $23,552 for professional fees — almost all of which was for legal costs related primarily to the mass murder reporting.

The $13,026 for advertising and promotion confused me initially, but it’s a catch-all accounting category that breaks down to $1,610.46 spent on swag that we sell, and the rest is computing and internet costs. I’ll have to speak with the accountant about how to better characterize those internet costs, but it includes payments to the company that hosts our website, my home internet, and a small amount ($233) spent on tech help.

The rest of the expenses are self-explanatory. The $72 spent on meals was for me, spent while I was on the road reporting. I usually pay for meals out of my own pocket, but when I’m outside of HRM, I feel it’s justified to expense it. This year, that figure will be a little higher, as I spent about a week in Truro covering the public inquiry, and I expensed lunch every day. The Examiner does not buy alcohol for me, except during employee parties, which we haven’t had in a couple of years, for obvious reasons.

You’ll see that the Examiner had a negative net annual balance of $15,419, but that was offset by the tax credit, which was $26,179, leaving a positive balance of $10,760 at the end of the year. In practice, that’s less than the money sitting in the bank at any given time, so is just part of our week-to-week cash flow.

In any event, that’s where your money goes.

I hope this shows that we’re not wasting your money. No dividends are being paid to me or any hedge fund or anyone else. I’m not taking a gigantic salary. We aren’t expensing huge meals at the Press Gang or whatever. It basically all goes to reporting and maintaining the website.

I challenge all other local media outlets to provide a similar accounting of where their money goes. So far, it’s just the Examiner that is fully accountable to subscribers.

Oh, please subscribe.

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Government

City

Contingency – District Boundary Resident Review Panel Special Meeting (Friday, 1pm, location TBD) — agenda

Province

No meetings


On campus

Dalhousie

Chamber Residency Concert: Chamber Music Monuments (Friday, 7:30pm, First Baptist Church, Oxford St., Halifax) — free concert features W.A. Mozart’s String Quintet in C Major, KV 515 and Johannes Brahms String Sextet no.1 op.18 in B-flat Major

Mahatmaji, I Have No Country: Ambedkar, Caste and Decolonisation (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1007, Rowe Management Building and online) — Priyamvada Gopal will talk, Teams link here


In the harbour

Halifax
05:00: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Baltimore
05:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre

Liberty Credit: Halifax Examiner

05:30: Liberty, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
08:30: ZIM Shekou, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
11:30: Liberty sails for sea
11:45: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 36 to Pier 42

Acadian Credit: Halifax Examiner

12:00: Acadian, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
16:30: Atlantic Sky sails for Hamburg, Germany
18:00: ZIM Shekou sails for New York
19:00: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
23:59: Nolhanava sails for Saint-Pierre

Cape Breton
07:00: AlgoTerra, oil tanker, sails from Government Dock (Sydney) for sea


Footnotes

Busy day today, for me.


Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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14 Comments

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  1. I was at the Mooseheads’ games on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, right after Strang and Lynk pleaded for voluntary masking.

    That plea resulted in precisely ZERO behaviour changes. As usual, those of us wearing masks were outnumbered at least 75 to one by the cheerful chattering maskless families – including babies in arms.

    We’ve had seasons tickets for a few years now. When the mandate was in place, everyone masked. When it was lifted, people stopped, because the message they heard was “You don’t have to do this anymore.”

    Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome each time.

  2. HRM does not hedge fuel costs, and the consequences are in the public domain.
    And AFAIK the province does not hedge fuel costs.
    Dumb and dumber acting in concert. Your can be sure their supplier, Irving Oil, is hedging and making out like sensible business people.
    Don’t feel bad if you don’t understand hedging, the brains trust at City Hall doesn’t but the people in other municipalities have been hedging for years.
    But HRM, and the council, is very good at fudging and writing reports which are difficult to read because the letters and numbers are very small; see attachment 2 page 8…………..https://cdn.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/boards-committees-commissions/22116afsc1222.pdf

  3. Thanks Tim for making The Examiner’s tax return public. It shows the courage of your convictions to actually deliver the transparency that so many political leaders promise but never produce.

    Glad to have been a subscriber for some years now.

  4. I believe that you can respect a person and still not share some of their beliefs. So, Dr. Strang I respect. I do not share the belief that there would not be widespread “buy in” for mandating masks indoors. One source, sorry I cannot cite it precisely, estimated that the ‘buy-in’ would be in the area of 70% of the population across the country. In Atlantic Canada, given a previous stellar record of compliance, that might be higher. When the proposition is put forward that most of the transmission happens in the family setting, I have to wonder what the effect of thousands of people per hr. at a local Costco is compared to the likelihood of transmission in the family setting. Dr. Lynk cited the likely infection rate for Covid in N.S. is 1 in 40. Let’s suppose that the ‘margin for error’ in that calculation might allow for an incidence of 1 in 30. Should the latter ratio be more accurate what would be the implications of that? Respect for the doctors- yes. Shared beliefs as to where ‘we’ are- not necessarily.

  5. Very interesting, showing your tax return, true transparency. Which is the Examiner’s mantra. My gut feeling was always that you paid well and put your funds into good journalism.
    I am actually proud to be a subscriber.
    Stephen Mader

  6. Hate to be a cynic but look at how much free advertising Cyclesmith just got in the Halifax Examiner.

    For the record I did buy my last bike there.

    1. Let me introduce you to the concept of publicity. If you do something unique, timely, of human interest, of significant impact, or local relevance…people will tell your story. Kudos to Cyclesmith for their forward thinking that paying people a living wage before others come to this natural conclusion will garner good customer experience, increased customer and employee loyalty, and free publicity.

      Doing good for your employees and customers is a task worthy of free coverage.

      Also, thanks for leading the way in transparency. Now, get yourself a raise already $43,000 is hardly a living wage for yourself Tim!

  7. On the tax return…
    It’s interesting to see the impact of subscriptions and the numbers of subscribers that would be behind that. Open and brave to publish this.

    I was curious about the negative tax in the statement and what seems to be its characterization as “tax credit” in the narrative part of the story. Is this related to a federal program to support news organizations through what I think is a “tax credit” or payment based on wages paid. Is this the same program as the “tax credit” available to subscribers to encourage the payment of online news providers?

    1. Individual people who subscribe can get a subscription tax credit on their personal tax returns. While that may entice some people to subscribe who otherwise would not, it doesn’t otherwise affect the Examiner financially.

      As a Qualified Canadian Journalism Organization (QCJO), the Examiner does qualify for a tax rebate program, an entirely different tax program. This is a 25% tax rebate on salaries for reporters (not administrators, and not me). It’s filed as part of our annual income tax return, and is applied against taxes owed, so practically speaking, is a credit (it’s always greater than taxes owed).

  8. Strang: “We have high COVID 19 vaccine coverage in Nova Scotia, and many people may also have had natural infection.”

    Wasn’t one of the dangers of COVID the fact that previous infection did not imbue the victim with immunity against future infections? I know of several cases of folks catching COVID twice, or more.

    And: Schools. The RSV situation in Quebec and points west have included lots of mention of school absentee rates. I’ve seen none of that data out of the NS Educational bureaucracies. Our son has picked up something – sniffles and a cough at this point – and we’ve emphasized the need to use his mask while at school to minimize the risk to others. But peer pressure and no staff wearing masks doesn’t translate into impressionable children standing up for their own health needs.

  9. Cyclesmith is a great example of businesses which recognize the importance of balanced labour costs reflecting living wage compensation. Living wage is formulated from actual data and “real world” analysis. Conversely, there is no basis of any kind for the minimum wage rate which is constantly fought by business owners wanting to keep profit margins high.

  10. Re: Living wage

    I love Cyclesmith. The staff is amazingly knowledgeable, friendly, and very helpful. I had a low tire and stopped by to see if I could get some air. The woman pointed out the air pump outside, then volunteered to pump it it up with a manual pump if I would bring my bike inside. I did, she did, and I ended up buying a pump because of their service. I strongly encourage you to get an e-bike. I’m 71 with the expected lack of endurance, bad knees, and I’m out of shape. So the motor comes in very handy on the hills I could do manually 30 years ago, and when I reach my range limits.

  11. Tim, you’re absolutely correct that public health should be managing Covid outbreaks in health facilites better than they are currently. I realize this is anecdotal, but I have a good friend recovering from surgery and a woman with pneumonia was put in the room with her. Unfortunately the woman died within 24 hours. Was it Covid? Was it flu? Who knows, nobody’s talking. For my friend it’s ‘wait and see if I catch whatever it was’.
    They’re obviously mixing acutely ill people with viruses in with people that are recovering from surgeries but otherwise well. This is why the ‘caught Covid in hospital’ numbers are so appalling.