1. COVID-19 update: Strang defends Northwood as deaths mount
Zane Woodford covered yesterday’s COVID-19 briefing by premier Stephen McNeil and chief medical officer of health Robert Strang.
The good news: new daily cases were in the single digits again, with just six reported.
The bad news: three more deaths, bringing the provincial total to 41. 35 of those who have died were Northwood residents.
Woodford looks at the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities in the province:
Of the 245 residents in all the long-term care facilities who’ve been infected, 46 have recovered and 39 have died. Of the 113 staff in those facilities who have contracted COVID-19, 61 have recovered. None have died. All of the active long-term care cases are now at Northwood. There are 160 active cases at Northwood among residents, and 49 among staff. Two other facilities have active cases among staff — one person at each.
Although Northwood is clearly the epicentre for the disease in Nova Scotia, Strang continues to praise the facility’s preparation and response.
Northwood is unique, he said. It’s the largest facility of its kind east of Montreal, with almost 600 “very frail and elderly” residents and 400 staff. Because it’s an older facility, many of the rooms are shared rooms, which makes it easier for a virus to spread.
“Once COVID-19 was introduced, it was able to spread significantly throughout Northwood before any cases were detected and before we even were aware there was an outbreak going on,” Strang said.
“But I have to give Northwood credit. They have taken all the steps that they could’ve taken in preparation.”
2. No dawdling over coffee: Nova Scotia farmers’ markets take their operations online
We’ve been going to the farmers’ market in the old Keith’s brewery since we moved to Nova Scotia, in 1998. I used to hate navigating the crowds in that place before Seaport opened and started drawing the crowds, making the brewery a much more pleasant shopping experience.
Well, there’s not a whole lot of crowding now.
In my latest story for the Examiner, I look at how farmers’ markets in Nova Scotia have quickly moved to online ordering and pickup, and what that means for the markets, vendors, and customers.
If everything had gone according to plan, on March 13, Farmers’ Markets of Nova Scotia (FMNS) executive director Justin Cantafio would have been on a plane to Mexico, heading off on vacation. Instead, he was still home, paying attention to the health directive limiting gatherings to fewer than 150 people.
“It was at that point in time that we realized this could potentially create difficulties for farmers’ markets, and that this would definitely be just the tip of the iceberg, or the first of what would be many incremental steps to ratchet in the direction of ensuring public health and safety,” Cantafio remembered.
Fortunately, Nova Scotia already had a model for how to transition market services online: the Wolfville Farmers’ Market, which had been offering online ordering and pickup through its WFM2GO portal for over two years. Using software called Local Food Marketplace, customers could select products from Wolfville Farmers’ Market vendors, then pick it up at an appointed place and time. Once pandemic crowd restrictions went into place, Wolfville quickly scaled up, offering delivery to Halifax locations too. As of May 5, there were eight different locations, stretching from Berwick to Dartmouth.
FMNS represents more than 30 farmers’ markets, most of which run seasonally, some outdoors. But Cantafio said only “nine or 10” of those were up and running in March. “And so that was the first thing: we wanted to make sure that we could figure out how to keep as many of these markets safely operating as possible, because they really are the economic backbone for so many small scale producers.”
3. False positive at Burnside garage
On Sunday night, Halifax Transit sent an email to employees with the news that a worker at the agency’s Burnside garage had tested positive for COVID-19.
In another email to staff sent just before noon on Tuesday, transit director Dave Reage said “the person who had self-reported as testing positive for COVID-19 this week has been confirmed to be negative.”
“The reporting error was unintentional,” Reage wrote. “We are glad to hear that the individual has not tested positive and apologize for any concerns or issues that arose from the confusion.”
4. Cops say not to worry about fake cop, and city clarifies park rules
A couple of notable media releases from the municipality yesterday. In the first, the city tells residents it’s identified a man who was reported to have been impersonating a police officer, and not to worry. Or, in cop-speak:
Halifax Regional Police have identified the male involved in the police officer impersonation complaint.
The other release is a clarification on the re-opening of parks and other green spaces.
The release has more detail and additional nuance, but the key points are these:
Park Assets that are open:
- Municipal cemeteries
- Skate parks
- Off leash dog parks, (Note: Shubie Park beach remains closed)
- Boat launches in parks (Note: All boat launches connected to beaches or recreation facilities will remain closed)
- Community gardens
Park Assets that remain closed:
- Sport courts (basketball, pickle ball, tennis, etc.)
- Artificial turf fields
- Ball diamonds and sports fields – while the provincial statement indicated that these are permitted to open, the municipality’s standard process is to open these in late May/early June, weather dependent. The municipality will provide additional updates closer to the typical opening dates.
- Sports/running tracks located adjacent to sports fields/artificial turf fields
- Beaches located in parks (Note: As per provincial direction, the parks are open but the beach areas are closed)
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen “greenspace” as one word before.
5. Province and Feed Nova Scotia may provide delivery
Feed Nova Scotia and the provincial government are in talks about a possible home delivery service amid concerns some people aren’t going to food banks because they either don’t have a way to get there or they are concerned about contracting COVID-19…
[Karen] Theriault [of Feed Nova Scotia] said there are a variety of reasons for sites seeing a decline in numbers. That includes some people being in a more stable financial situation right now because they’ve been able to access various government support programs, while other people are “simply too afraid to leave their house,” said Theriault.
“That is a worry. If you’ve got someone sitting home hungry, who doesn’t have food, but they are too afraid to leave or they don’t have the ability to leave.”
The inability to leave relates to people who would normally rely on carpooling. With public health orders restricting gatherings to five people or fewer and calling on people to avoid mixing households, Theriault said some food bank clients have lost their means of transportation.
Early in the pandemic, the provincial government gave Feed Nova Scotia an extra $1 million. Gorman also notes the province provided a one-time payment of $50 to people on income assistance.
People like me have the luxury of ordering groceries in advance, driving to a store, and having someone drop them in the trunk of my car. Meanwhile, vulnerable people have to negotiate transit on a reduced schedule and lug home the food they get from the food bank. I hope some kind of delivery system gets up and running.
6. More COVID cluster problems
I can understand how that made sense to whoever decided to create the list, but there are lots of problems with this approach — even if it works as intended.
But before we get to that, understand that the list is not being used as intended, at least by some health care providers. People who live in the so-called COVID cluster zones tell me that they have been denied health care services…
Clearly, the intent of creating a COVID cluster list was not to limit health care in those zones, but here it is being used exactly in that way.
Nebal Snan writes:
A woman’s visit to a hospital for medical tests turned into a nightmare when the receptionist told her she lived in a COVID-19 cluster.
The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said the receptionist broke the news after learning her postal code.
“Everyone had to wear full PPE (personal protective equipment)… I felt like a pariah.”
The woman’s main concern wasn’t that health-care providers were taking extra precautions; she is a health-care provider herself.
She’s mostly concerned for the patients she interacts with.
“Now I’m afraid to shop or even get a coffee in my area,” she said.
The story gets into some of the issues Bousquet raised in his piece over the ethics of publishing the postal codes of these clusters (some postal codes cover thousands of people, others very few) and whether there is any public benefit to making them public.
Health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton says, ““We should just be assuming that COVID is everywhere in the community and behaving accordingly. “
Yesterday morning, I had to go to the Halifax Infirmary site for a pretty straightforward diagnostic test, three weeks after I’d been there for another test.
I realize it’s a cliché at this point to say how fast things are changing, but it still strikes me, almost daily. Last night, I was remembering how when I flew to Florida March 4, I would have felt totally self-conscious about wiping down the area around my airplane seat. Now? I’d be wiping that sucker raw and still feel nervous about it. Self-conscious? No way.
I had meant to take a mask with me back when I went for my first hospital test, but I’d left home late and hadn’t had time to pick up the mask on the way. (My sister-in-law sewed it and had left it in her mailbox for me.) So I went to the hospital without one. I felt validated every time I saw someone else with no mask, and guilty every time I passed someone wearing one.
A week later, on my next trip to the city, I wore the mask for the first time to go shopping, feeling vaguely self-conscious (why???) and wondering if I had it on right, was it tight enough, and so on.
Yesterday, I parked in front of the hospital, tied on the mask, and headed into the building. It’s strange to see a hospital so empty. Most of the seats in the waiting area are taped off, to prevent people from sitting too close together. You don’t have to take a number anymore, and the clerk doesn’t ask to see your hospital card. (Did they before? I think so? But I can’t remember for sure.) After checking in, I was told to follow the maroon dots to the waiting room, and off I headed, pausing only as someone approached from the opposite direction and we did that awkward little dance as you try to figure out who is going where, and which way to move to avoid each other.
There were two other people in the waiting room, both in masks, each seated alone in their own rows, the rest of the chairs covered in tape.
I went up to the changing room (got to put on one of those hospital gowns) and stopped in front of a sign with a big black X, informing me to wait until called. When my turn came, in I went, and the woman who greeted me told me to stay by the big green X made out of tape on the floor. I hadn’t noticed it.
In the past, our interaction would have gone something like this: I’d walk up to her and hand her the form I was given at the desk, she’d hand me the johnny shirt and hospital gown, and I’d go into one of the change rooms.
This time, I stood a safe distance away while she demonstrated the johnny shirt, and showed me what to do if I had trouble tying it up behind my neck. Normally, she said, she’d help, but now she can’t. She pointed me to a specific cubicle, and told me to go in there and change, and that she had wiped it all down before I went in. “Leave your clothes in there,” she added. “That’s your room.” After I was gone, she would wipe it down again.
I changed, left my clothes behind, had my test done, and was out of the building and heading home in less than an hour from when I’d arrived.
There was nothing dramatic about any of this, but I think that’s why I kept thinking about it for the rest of the day. It’s just one small part of our new normal — the re-thinking of procedures, a few changes in practice — but scale that up across a whole society and you start to realize the enormity of the challenges that face us.
Every single situation has to be thought through — specifying where the staff person and patient will stand, figuring out which waiting room seats to tape off, creating appropriate and effective signage, getting rid of shared lockers and having one cubicle per person, and wiping it down before and after each use. And, of course, all this takes more time too.
For my new story on farmers’ markets, I spoke to Rachael Delano of the Halifax Brewery Farmers’ Market, and she described how staff had adjusted procedures in the market’s new store: insisting on hand-washing before anyone even enters, realizing there was only room for clients to safely shop by all moving in the same direction, finding the right spots to put chalk marks on the floor. “We’ve definitely learned a few things along the way,” she said.
I go out once a week to shop, and it’s started to feel almost normal. The first couple of times I felt on such high alert the whole time, I was exhausted by the time I got home. Every single movement seemed to necessitate a lot of forethought and constant attention.
Of course, that hasn’t gone away. I am particularly on alert if I’m going into a store I haven’t been to pre-pandemic, trying to quickly assess the situation. And let me tell you, there are a few I am definitely not going back to. But overall most of the routine stuff has become more, well, routine. Mask on, into store, see who’s coming and move away if necessary, minimal touching, get what I need, back to car, sanitize hands, move on to the next stop.
It feels like we’ve hit some kind of equilibrium now. The new normal. For now. Until it changes. Again.
When I was a toddler, my parents decided to head to PEI for a family holiday. And, being my parents, after the holiday they hung onto their 1968 Island road map, along with the “Come to Prince Edward Island” visitors’ guide they got from the Star-Herald travel agency on Stanley Street, in downtown Montreal. (The name and addressed are faintly stamped on the top right of the guide’s cover.)
At the back of the booklet is a list of the province’s attributes and activities. Swimming, of course, along with golfing and cycling. Apparently, PEI was also known as a great place for lawn bowling, shuffleboard and all-purpose “relaxation.”
The first time I went to PEI as an adult was with my partner, Sara, who had not been back since her family had moved to Montreal when she was 16. One of the things that struck her was how little had changed.
Over the last five years or so, PEI has changed dramatically — especially Charlottetown — thanks largely to the province’s concerted effort to attract and retain immigrants. But in the 20 years between 1968 and the late 1980s, it seemed like not a whole lot had changed. Update the language, make different design choices, and much of my parents’ brochure would still apply. They’re still racing horses at the Charlottetown Driving Park (although it’s now called Red Shores), people still go deep-sea fishing, and, of course, the beaches aren’t going anywhere.
There are a few things the pamphlet highlights that are definitely of their time. One of them is that “many highways in the province are paved.” And some of the language and sloganeering hits that perfect mix of cheesy and wonderful. PEI is the “Million Acre Farm.” On the Island, “it is a case of ‘every mile a beach and every beach a mile.’” PEI is “a veritable Garden of Eden” where “relaxation is the prize package which Prince Edward Island has to offer.” I was surprised to find this relaxation is a tonic not only for businessmen, but also for businesswomen. A nice progressive note.
The writers of the pamphlet seem very keen to convince tourists, presumably primarily Americans, that the place is not freezing cold, yet not uncomfortably hot. It quotes “a former governor of Mississippi” who called the province “wave-washed, wind-swept, sun-kissed, air-cooled.”
The section on beaches notes in all-caps that “THE WATER TEMPERATURE AT PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND BEACHES AVERAGES 70 DEGREES DURING SUMMER MONTHS.”
Beaches, golfing (green fees at Green Gables: $1.50/day or $6.00 week), deep-sea fishing, the Confederation Centre. These are all things PEI tourism still plugs.
There have been a few changes though. For one thing, PEI doesn’t have a flourishing fox-fur industry anymore (though it does have a museum devoted to it in Summerside).
One thing that struck me is that there is no almost no mention at all of the arts. In the 1970s, PEI put a lot of stock in using arts and crafts as a driver for the local economy. I did a story for Saltscapes a few years ago about a back-to-the-lander who moved to PEI from Massachusetts in the 1970s, worked briefly as a psychiatric nurse, and then studied weaving through a program paid for by the province, to boost the number of local artisans. The brochure doesn’t even mention the Anne of Green Gables musical, which had already been running three years when it was published.
I also found it kind of funny to see a section called “Urban Centers” which notes there is only one city, and it has 15,689 people.
We’ve been to PEI almost every summer for 20 years. We’ll have to wait and see if we can make it back to the Million Acre Farm this year.
In the harbour
0:30: MOL Maxim, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
05:00: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
06:30: Selfoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Reykjavik
08:30: Maersk Maker, offshore supply ship, arrives at Pier 9 from the Sable Island field
10:00: Budapest Bridge, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
11:00: Atlantic Star, container ship, sails for New York
11:45: Selfoss sails for Portland
21:30: Budapest Bridge sails for Rotterdam
Amazingly, I am not streaming baseball from Korea while writing this. (There is a game on right now.) Instead, I’m enjoying the sunshine through the window and listening to Van Morrison’s Hymns to the Silence, which is one of the most uplifting recordings I know.
Also, huge congrats to Examiner publisher Tim Bousquet for his Michener Award nomination for public service journalism. Bousquet is nominated for his work on the wrongful conviction of Glen Assoun. His CBC podcast on the case is coming soon.