1. Daily COVID-19 update
Yesterday’s daily update from the Examiner is even meatier than usual, with contributions from both Tim Bousquet and El Jones.
You’ll still find the analysis of the latest numbers — Nova Scotia has been stable at about 30 new cases a day for the last week — but also Tim’s thoughts on the trouble with the construction exemption and the premier’s framing of it, and El’s on race-based data and clapping for health-care workers in the context of McNeil’s “systematic targeting of healthcare workers.”
Among the people contacting me have been construction workers and their families. They tell me repeatedly that social distancing rules are not being followed on job sites. The workers say that their objections to doing certain types of work that brings them near coworkers is ignored.
I’ve been told that an out-of-province construction worker was brought in to work on a large construction project downtown, but that worker did not self-isolate for the required 14 days before going to the job site. When other workers objected, they were told that construction has an exemption; this is not true — construction is exempted from the five-person rule, but not from the social distancing requirement or the requirement for people arriving from out of province to self-isolate for 14 days.
In the press briefing on Tuesday, April 13, a member of the press finally asked a question I have burned with all along. Throughout this pandemic, the elephant in the room has always been McNeil’s years-long attacks on healthcare workers and their unions. To my mind, clapping for health care workers, or platitudes about their bravery mean nothing if a few months or years from now when their contracts come up, they continue to face cuts to staffing and pay that directly endanger patients, and endanger all our communities when we are hit with a pandemic like this one.
Also, check back later today for stories by Joan Baxter on COVID-19 in Africa and what the heck is the deal with that drive-in church service over the weekend. (I went to a drive-in service at the Brackley Drive-In theatre in PEI many years ago. Very odd experience.)
2. Bring your own tissues: what does it mean for therapists and clients when practices move online?
Like so many other businesses, therapy practices have moved online. But unlike many other services, therapy can be intensely personal.
“I can say with confidence we were doing zero percent video conferencing. No tele-psychology at all,” says psychologist Daniel Chorney, of Dr. Daniel Chorney & Associates. “We went from zero to 100 percent immediately… literally transforming the practice upside-down, closing our doors and saying everyone who is presently booked or booked in the future has to give some thought to whether they’re willing to use a different form of treatment delivery.”…
Chorney’s practice is largely focused on children, teens, and young adults. “The kids are funny, because they use this technology all day, but it’s different for some of them to see me or another provider online. Kids are still kids,” he says. “I was doing a session a week or two ago, and the child was more interested in seeing themselves on the screen and making faces. We’re trying to talk about serious issues and they’re sticking their tongue out. So we had a talk and turned off the Zoom feature where they could see themselves.”
3. COVID-19 outbreaks hitting Nova Scotia nursing homes
Jennifer Henderson’s latest is on how long-term care facilities are being hit by COVID-19, and on the province’s perhaps belated response to the issue.
At Northwood Manor in Halifax, 16 residents and 10 staff tested have tested positive as of the weekend.* Henderson has tried, so far unsuccessfully, to get the total number of long-term care staff and residents who have tested positive in the province.
Over this past weekend, the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness — which licenses and regulates 132 long-term care facilities — made it mandatory for all nursing home employees to wear surgical masks at work. These are the regular masks and not the specialized N-95 model which nurses and physicians wear when intubating severely ill people. Nurses and Continuing Care Assistants (CCAs) who interact with residents who are either suspected or confirmed COVID cases must “gown up” and wear Personal Protective Equipment from head to toe…
McNeil said supplying masks to front-line healthcare workers outside hospitals could not be mandated until the province had managed “to place an order with our friends in China.” The Chinese masks should arrive at the end of May after other supplies have run out. By then, McNeil says he is “hopeful” a local company may be able to manufacture some here.
“Most nursing homes are now wearing the masks 24-7,” said Louise Riley, a Continuing Care Assistant who chairs CUPE’s Long-Term Care Committee. CUPE represents almost 4800 people who work in 49 homes as continuing care assistants (CCAs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), dietary workers, cleaners, and recreation therapists. Workers in homes where there have already been outbreaks were provided with masks and protective equipment before this weekend.
Riley says although adequate Personal Protective Equipment has been made available at the nursing homes, many of her colleagues are scared.
“Everyone is afraid of this,” Riley said. “This is all new. I’m sure we have people who don’t want to work in the nursing homes, but we are trained health-care workers. The nursing homes have the equipment in place and most have a COVID room where a resident can be isolated if they get infected.”
It would be easy to write a story about the new requirement for masks that doesn’t dig any deeper. Henderson always digs deeper, and we all benefit. While the Examiner is providing all COVID-19 coverage free, your subscriptions will allow us to continue publishing stories like this. Please subscribe if you can.
1. Testing numbers are updated daily at https://novascotia.ca/coronavirus
2. A state of emergency was declared under the Emergency Management Act on March 22 and extended to April 19
3. As of April 13, there are 21 residents and 14 staff in six long-term care facilities licensed by the Department of Health and Wellness who have tested positive for COVID-19
4. Animal neglect in Lawrencetown
Linda Pannozzo brings us the drawn-out legal saga of a farm in Lawrencetown, in the Annapolis Valley, that has been cited numerous times for neglect and cruelty.
Over a period of two years (2017 to 2019), Nova Scotia Department of Environment (NSE) inspectors visited Lawrencetown resident Joshua Tynes’ property 12 times and issued seven written notices with directives involving farm animals in distress…
While there were occasional short-lived improvements, the directives went largely unheeded. Finally, in June of 2019, 12 animals were seized, including five llamas, two goats, and five sheep.
In July, Tynes filed a formal appeal to the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Welfare Appeal Board (formerly the Animal Cruelty Appeal Board), which hears appeals of decisions from “aggrieved persons” made under the Animal ProtectionAct, which is the provincial law that protects farm animals and companion animals and aims to help animals in distress.
After reviewing Tynes’ appeal, the Appeal Board decided the animals should be returned to Tynes. The NSE appealed that decision and filed a Notice for Judicial Review which was heard by Justice Glen McDougall in November of last year, and is the subject of his recent decision. Justice McDougall found the Appeal Board’s decision “unreasonable.”
Now, the issue is back in the hands of the Appeal Board. Read “Animal neglect in Lawrencetown” here.
5. Who will think of the boat owners?
District 2 councillor David Hendsbee is concerned that some of his constituents won’t be able to get to their cottages unless the province opens up boat launches, CBC reports:
“People have been calling,” said Hendsbee. “They are eager to get to their camps by the … Victoria Day long weekend.”
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s public health officer, has advised against travelling to open up cottages. At a briefing earlier this month, Strang said “the more movement of people we have around Nova Scotia … creates a substantive increased risk for all of us.”
But, according to Hendbsee, many people who own camps along the Eastern Shore live in the area. He thinks certain boat launches could be opened safely.
Apparently, council is actually going to discuss this later today. Imagine if we get open golf courses and boat launches while trails stay closed.
6. “Sub-par” testing centre in North Preston
Brooklyn Currie reports for CBC that the NSGEU is concerned about the new COVID-19 assessment centre in North Preston.
The clinic opened last week.
Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, said nurses told him last week that the clinic has poor ventilation and there is not enough room for physical distancing.
“If they’re looking to address a situation and trying to get as many people tested as possible, I believe they’re putting people at risk,” he said…
MacLean said it’s “very frustrating” that he hasn’t had a direct response from McNeil or Strang, especially after McNeil singled out the community as COVID-19 rulebreakers in an earlier press conference.
The province says the clinic moved into a larger space over the weekend and that the layout is similar to other clinics in the province.
7. How will we vote and when will we vote?
Council will discuss voting methods today,with staff recommending paper ballots only on election day, and phone and online voting only for advance polls and Acadian school board members.
Of course, the larger, looming question out of council’s control is whether or not the elections will go ahead as planned, given the pandemic.
“It’s in the province’s wheelhouse whether or not they bump the election date in October,” said Lisa Blackburn, deputy mayor for HRM and the councillor for Middle and Upper Sackville and Beaver Bank.
“They have the ability to change it,” Blackburn said. “I haven’t heard directly if that is something that is being discussed but I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t be discussed at this point. If we’re looking at lockdowns straight through and into the summer, traditionally that’s when the vast majority of people would be out knocking on doors and do you want people out knocking on doors during a pandemic. I’m sure it’s a conversation that they are having at the provincial level.”
8. Challenges and new rules for apartment dwellers
CBC reports that some landlords are instituting bans on visitors in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. The story says about 20 percent of Nova Scotians live in apartment buildings. That figure must be considerably higher for Halifax, where only half the dwellings are single detached houses (the number is 65.5 percent for the province as a whole.)
However, the unbylined story notes, there is no legal way to enforce those rules:
Gary Andrea, a spokesperson for the province, said landlords cannot prevent tenants from having visitors in the units…
Nova Scotia RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Lisa Croteau said they are enforcing rules under the Health Protection Act and Emergency Management Act, neither of which extend to enforcing no-visitor policies.
The story includes a roundup of other changes in apartment buildings, including making laundry rooms available round-the-clock to cut down on traffic, and tips on how to self-isolate in a multi-unit building.
On the weekend, one of my Facebook friends noted that there were “a lot of cars” in the visitor parking spots at his Halifax-area apartment building.
1. What’s normal?
I subscribe to a weekly newsletter from Mad In America, a non-profit whose mission is “to serve as a catalyst for rethinking psychiatric care in the United States (and abroad).”
This week, the newsletter featured an article by journalist Miranda Spencer, called Inside a Pandemic: Media Struggle to Define What’s Normal. Spencer, who describes herself as “a person with lived experience in the mental health system” writes about increased levels of anxiety, and how it’s normal to feel fear, uncertainty, and so on in these stressful times.
At the same time, as a Mad in America study of press coverage between March 8 and March 25 found, we are seeing warnings that for certain people, those hard-wired stress responses to the virus may not be normal, and that we should be alert for signs of “unhealthy” anxiety…
For example, this piece from The Hill, titled “The Mental Health Costs of Containing the Coronavirus Outbreak: A Pandemic Takes a Unique Toll on People with Mental Illnesses,” states that it is normal for the general population to feel anxious: “Everyone is going to feel some level of discomfort and anxiety right now.”
However, the article also warns that “For some, the anxiety can rise to a clinical level during an outbreak,” which requires professional help. In other words, what is normal for some is abnormal for others. According to Krystal Lewis, a clinical psychologist at the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms that might be “clinical” include “difficulty sleeping, changes in eating patterns, rapid changes in mood, inability to carry out required or necessary tasks, [and] self-medication using alcohol.”
All told, the public is left with a confusing message: Becoming more anxious in response to COVID 19 would be normal if you are mentally healthy and a sign of illness if you’re not, although apparently some normal people might experience so much anxiety that they, too, could now be seen as mentally ill. And finally, everyone is now to practice behaviors that in the past would be a sign that they had OCD, but now are considered reasonable…unless one goes “too far.”
I can’t say I agree with all of Spencer’s observations or conclusions, but I do find it interesting how, given changing circumstances, behaviours considered normal, versus those considered signs of illness, shift. And how what’s OK for one group is troubling for another.
There really is a toilet paper shortage. Sort of.
The current On the Media podcast includes a segment called Why the Toilet Paper Shortage Makes More Sense Than You Think. It features an interview with writer Will Oremus, who wrote a story called What Everyone’s Getting Wrong About the Toilet Paper Shortage.
Oremus says panic buying and hoarding are not the reason store shelves have been bare. Yes, it’s true that overall we’re not using more toilet paper — you likely go to the bathroom the same amount whether you are at your regular place of work or at home. The issue is the kind of toilet paper you’re using.
On the podcast, Oremus says:
The toilet paper you use when you leave the home, is not the same as the toilet paper you use at home… It’s two totally different products. One is recycled, the other one is virgin fibre. One is thin, flimsy, it comes in huge rolls, whereas the kind you buy in the store is often embossed and layered and cushy… It’s actually often different companies producing these two different kinds of toilet paper.
In the article, Oremus elaborates, noting that you can’t just flip a switch and send commercial toilet paper to the home market. It’s often not even made by the same mills.
In theory, some of the mills that make commercial toilet paper could try to redirect some of that supply to the consumer market. People desperate for toilet paper probably wouldn’t turn up their noses at it. But the industry can’t just flip a switch. Shifting to retail channels would require new relationships and contracts between suppliers, distributors, and stores; different formats for packaging and shipping; new trucking routes — all for a bulky product with lean profit margins.
Because toilet paper is high volume but low value, the industry runs on extreme efficiency, with mills built to work at full capacity around the clock even in normal times. That works only because demand is typically so steady. If toilet paper manufacturers spend a bunch of money now to refocus on the retail channel, they’ll face the same problem in reverse once people head back to work again.
“The normal distribution system is like a well-orchestrated ballet,” said Willy Shih, a professor at Harvard Business School. “If you make a delivery to a Walmart distribution center, they give you a half-hour window, and your truck has to show up then.” The changes wrought by the coronavirus, he said, “have thrown the whole thing out of balance, and everything has to readjust.”
I love stories like this. They take something that seems to be common sense — people are being idiots for panic-buying toilet paper and now I can’t get any — and reveal a much more complex set of circumstances.
Virtual Executive Standing Committee, 10am.
Virtual Halifax Regional Council, 1pm.
In the harbour
11:00: Augusta Unity, cargo ship, sails from Pier 31 for sea
11:00: Acadian, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
14:00: Atlantic Kestrel, offshore supply ship, arrives at Irving Oil from sea
15:00: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
15:00: Maersk Maker, offshore supply ship, arrives at Pier 9 from St. John’s
15:30: CMA CGM A. Lincoln, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Marsaxlokk, Malta
19:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, arrives at National Gypsum from Portsmouth, Maine
22:30: Atlantic Star sails for Hamburg, Germany
It’s a good time to ferment things. I’m experimenting with all kinds of kombucha flavours. Got a batch of black currant and lime on the go. (Frozen black currants from our garden, picked last year.) Will report back on how it turns out.