Ask Us Anything!

We asked readers to ask us anything, and lots of you did. Philip Moscovitch collated those questions and brought them to me, Zane Woodford, Yvette d’Entremont, Suzanne Rent, Joan Baxter, and Iris the Amazing. (For space reasons, we weren’t able to include everyone.) Have a listen (yes, I misspoke and said “square quotes” when I meant “scare quotes”; I am sometimes not smart):

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1. COVID-19

Nova Scotia announced 16 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday; 15 are in the Central Zone and the other is the school-based case announced Sunday night (the second at the Northeast Kings Education Centre in Canning). There are now 138 known active cases in the province.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority conducted 3,054 tests at its labs Sunday (so a positivity rate of about 0.5%). Another 628 tests were conducted at the pop-up rapid testing site, and six people were identified as positive (they are not included in the 16 announced above; they are directed to get a standard test for followup).

Here’s the graph of new daily cases and the seven-day rolling average for the duration of the second wave:

And here’s the graph of active cases for the entire pandemic:

Public Health has issued four more advisories of potential COVID-19 exposures:

Anyone who worked or visited the following locations on the specified date and time is asked to immediately visit to book a COVID-19 test, regardless of whether they have COVID-19 symptoms. People who book testing because they were at a site of potential exposure to COVID-19 are required to self-isolate before their test and while waiting for test results. You can also call 811 if you don’t have online access or if you have other symptoms that concern you.
  • Highwayman (1673 Barrington St., Halifax) on Nov. 19 between 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. It is anticipated anyone exposed to the virus at this location on the named date may develop symptoms up to, and including, Dec. 3.
  • Bluenose II Restaurant (1824 Hollis St., Halifax) on Nov. 23, Nov. 24, and Nov. 25 between 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. It is anticipated anyone exposed to the virus at this location on the named dates may develop symptoms up to, and including, Dec. 9.
  • East Peak Indoor Climbing (6408 Quinpool Road, Halifax) on Nov. 21 between 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. It is anticipated that anyone exposed to the virus at this location on the named date may develop symptoms up to, and including, Dec. 5.
  • Heartwood Cafe (3061 Gottingen Street, Halifax) on Nov. 21 between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. It is anticipated that anyone exposed to the virus at this location on the named date may develop symptoms up to, and including, Dec. 5.

I’ve updated the possible exposure map to reflect the four additional sites/locations, but also to remove advisories that have expired (still more will expire today):

Premier Stephen McNeil and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang have scheduled a COVID briefing today (Tuesday) at 3pm.

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2. Mental health in the pandemic

“A Dalhousie University professor says a properly funded suicide prevention strategy is required to deal with the “mental health disaster” created by pandemic mitigation efforts,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

“This pandemic in our province and across our country has exposed an underfunded and broken mental health system that has no systematic means of preventing death by suicide,” Simon Sherry said in an interview.

“Our government is disappointing us mightily amid this pandemic. There is a seemingly unlimited amount of money to prevent death by COVID-19. There is very little money available to prevent death by suicide in our province.”

Sherry, who’s also a practicing clinical psychologist, said efforts to stop the spread of the virus have unsurprisingly led to “substantial spikes” in stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

“I certainly understand and in no way want to undermine public health guidance, but we need to recognise that lockdowns in particular are horrible for human mental health,” he said.

Click here to read “Dal prof: Better funding may stave off a ‘mental health disaster.’”

If you are thinking about suicide, call the 24-hour Mental Health Crisis Line toll free at 1-888-429-8167

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3. Decarbonization

Tufts Cove Generating Plant. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“’Powering a Green Nova Scotia, Together.’ That’s the title of a long-awaited, long-term strategy filed by Nova Scotia Power to the regulator describing how the company proposes to reduce our carbon footprint over the next 25 years,” reports Jennifer Henderson: 

“The need for deep greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction is recognized across the globe” says the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) document, which is a response to targets legislated in the Sustainable Development Goals Act (SDGA) last October. It replaced an earlier law passed by the Dexter government in 2007.

What are the goals?

The SDGA calls for decarbonization of at least 53% (relative to 2005) by 2030 and attainment of “net-zero” carbon emissions by 2050. The McNeil government has yet to draft regulations to map out how these targets will be achieved; consultation planned for the fall was derailed by COVID and no firm date in 2021 has yet been set. 

So Nova Scotia Power’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) — developed with input from various environmental groups and business interests — provides the first tangible glimpse of a road map for how the province might get to a low-carbon future. It’s a preliminary guide expected to change as events unfold, but it’s a guide, nevertheless.

While renewable sources of energy have increased to make up about 27% of the fuel mix, the province still generates about 56% of its electricity from coal — exactly the same percentage as five years ago. 

The report says NS Power evaluated a broad range of future scenarios that ”reflect key uncertainties over the coming decades.” But whatever scenario unfolds, here are the key drivers the utility will use to “de-carbonize” the Province over the next few decades.

Click here to read “Decarbonization: how will Nova Scotia Power get to ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions?”

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4. Metro pharmacies out of flu shots

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

If you didn’t get your flu shot yet, procrastination has its price.>

It’s December 1. Flu shots are no longer available at pharmacies in Metro. The province, which has requested more flu vaccine from Ottawa, has no idea when more might arrive. Since last week, both Shoppers Drug Mart and Lawton’s Drug in the Halifax Regional Municipality report they have no flu vaccine available and can’t direct customers to find supply. 

The Halifax Examiner contacted the Department of Health to ask if more flu vaccine might be available through pharmacies outside HRM, although travel restrictions due to COVID-19 mean that’s not an option right now. The short answer is, the province doesn’t know.

“All of the original doses we ordered have been distributed to providers (including family physicians). Coverage rates are based on billing information submitted from vaccine providers and can take up to three months to obtain. Unused doses are not returned until the end of the flu season, which is April,” according to Department of Health communications officer Sarah Levy MacLeod. 

“While we ordered more doses this year than we ever have — 493,750 — we understand that many providers are running low on the influenza vaccine. Nova Scotians’ uptake of the influenza vaccine has been significantly higher than in the past.  We’re working with our federal partners to secure more influenza vaccine for Nova Scotians. When it is available, we will make a public announcement.”

Hope it arrives before the flu! The Examiner editor and I both missed subscribing for the first dose.

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5. High school students walk out in BLM protest

Prince Andrew High School, Dartmouth

“Dozens of students at Dartmouth’s Prince Andrew High School walked out of class on Monday to protest racist behaviour in the halls and a lack of curriculum on Black history and culture,” reports Elizabeth McSheffrey for Global:>

The “Black Minds Matter” walkout was staged two weeks after a white student distributed content on Snapchat containing explicit and racist language, including the N-word. That individual was suspended, according to the school’s principal.

Yet Grade 12 student Keasiah Sparks, a co-organizer of the walkout, say racism at Prince Andrew High School goes beyond a single social media pos

“Constant use of the N-word, many microaggressions like ‘Can I touch your hair?’ or ‘Is that a weave?’ That’s a lot of the things that happen and it’s not just from the students, it’s from the teachers itself.”

“It’s like little things and they don’t think we catch onto it,” added Essence Simmonds, another co-organizer in Grade 12. “But I have six other siblings that have to come here and I don’t want my siblings to go through the same thing that I went through, throughout my 13 years.”

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1. Cutting resources for the most needy

As usual, Richard Starr provides a detailed analysis of the province’s current fiscal situation (tl;dr: it’s fine), but I’d like to draw particular attention to his conclusion:

The decline [in social spending] over the six year period is the result of cuts over the last two years. About 70 per cent of social protection expenditures in Nova Scotia are for sickness and disability or social exclusion, the latter defined by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development as “benefits to persons who are at risk of being socially excluded, such as low-income earners, refugees and homeless persons.” Table 3 shows how spending for those groups has been reduced.

Table 3: Change in per capita spending by category Nova Scotia

Category 2017 2019 Change
Sickness and Disability $542 $517 -4.61%
Social Exclusion $464 $421 -9.27%
Family and Children $225 $233 +3.55%
Housing $174 $161 -7.47%
Other $4 na
Total Social Protection $1409 $1336 -5.18%

Source: Stats Canada Daily 2018-11-28 and 2020-11-27

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the sound financial state of which the McNeil government is so proud has been achieved at the expense of those in need of social protection.

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Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 10am) — Budget Committee agenda here; Regional Council agenda here.


North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm) — agenda and info here.



Community Services (Tuesday, 9am, Province House) — Families Plus Program, with the Department of Community Services and Family Services of Eastern Nova Scotia; also agenda setting. More info here.

Health (Tuesday, 1pm, Province House) — Nova Scotia Health Authority; Dr. Beed and the ongoing work with organ and tissue donation. More info here.


Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — December 2020 Report of the Auditor General -Financial; more info here.

On campus



Machinal (Tuesday, 7:45am) — pre-recorded performance of Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 play, by students of the Fountain School of Performing Arts. More info and link here.

The Food Security Project: Cooking with Andy Hay (Tuesday, 12pm) — In this 20-minute cooking class, Andy will teach attendees how to prepare a simple, delicious meal with easy-to-obtain ingredients. More info and link here.

Advancing a structural approach to preventing intimate partner violence (Tuesday, 1pm) — Alexa Yakubovich from the Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto will talk.

Intimate partner violence is estimated to affect at least 1 in 3 women, making it the most common form of violence perpetrated against women and more prevalent than some of the top diseases among women, including breast cancer. While there is ample research on intimate partner violence, few studies have rigorously investigated the relationship between intimate partner violence and community- or structural-level factors and many gaps remain in our understanding of what works for structural prevention of this violence. In this talk, I will demonstrate why and how a structural approach to intimate partner violence needs advancing in terms of both etiologic theories and preventive interventions using as examples my research on neighbourhood deprivation and intimate partner violence and housing solutions for survivors. In the process I will show how epidemiologic methods and interdisciplinary collaborations are critical to this work and will ultimately generate evidence for the design, implementation, and evaluation of intersectoral approaches that reduce social inequities in violence and its negative consequences.

More info and link here.

The four squares problem and its application in operator approximation (Tuesday, 2:30pm) — Xiaoning Bian will

first walk through an algorithm of Rabin and Shallit that efficiently solves the four-square Diophantine equation n=x^2+y^2+z^2+w^2. The efficiency comes from the use of randomness – there are enough “good seed numbers”, so by randomly choosing a number, it is likely that we can hit a good seed that will grow into a solution. Then, I will explain how this algorithm can be adapted to solve the problem of approximating any 2×2 unitary using matrices of a certain kind. The resulting algorithm is a “baby” version of Ross and Selinger’s algorithm.​

Link here. Bring your own seeds.

Architecture travel exhibition opening (Tuesday, 6pm) — students who received a scholarship to travel pre- or mid-pandemic will present their findings. Info and link here.


A photo of Samira Rahimi.
Samira Rahimi. Photo: Twitter

Application of AI and Operational Research in Family Medicine Practice (Wednesday, 1pm) — Samira Rahimi from McGill University will talk. Info here.

In the harbour

03:00: Thunder Bay, bulker, arrives at Bedford Basin anchorage from Charlottetown
07:30: Thunder Bay moves to National Gypsum
09:00: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
10:00: Budapest Bridge, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
10:30: Dalian Express, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
12:00: Macao Strait, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Setubal, Portugal
20:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre


Here’s a tease: we’ll have some big news at 1pm today.

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

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. It sure would be nice to see the slope of that rolling average start pointing down. Let’s hope that all this testing is identifying a higher percentage of the actual cases out there, and that the increase is more a result of increased targeted testing than it is of more infections. Otherwise, it will be a long long winter.

  2. I always enjoy reading about the math (also science, but not as much) stuff on campus, even when I only know some of the words (for real, I am not being sarcastic). It is probably one of my favorite “extras” we get with our morning files. I have a post-secondary education in a math-heavy field and at the time viewed math as an unpleasant means to an end, but really, pure mathematics is a much better thing for smart people to do than, for instance, figure out how to make snapchat or whatever the kids use more addictive.