News

1.  COVID-19 numbers

The Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission’s sign on Barrington Street, reminding motorists to obey the rules, apparently missing a golden opportunity to remind people of the rules. Photo: Erica Butler

As of Tuesday’s Nova Scotia government update, we know that for the first time in Nova Scotia, someone has died from COVID-19. A woman in her 70s passed away in hospital in the health authority’s Eastern Zone.

We also learned there are:

  • 17 new known positive cases in Nova Scotia (4.05% of newly reported test results)
  • 11 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19  (4.51% of known active cases)
  • 66 people recovered from COVID-19  (21.29% of total reported positive cases)
  • 310 total reported cases to date (2.85% of reported test results)
  • 10,931 reported test results (1.13% of the Nova Scotia population)

One final number: that makes three days in a row that the Halifax Examiner was not permitted to ask a question at the province’s daily briefing.

For up-to-date graphs of daily statistics, check out Tim’s handiwork here.

2. Coronavirus hits the Black community, with a predictable racist response

Premier Stephen McNeil (left) and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang at the daily COVID-19 briefing, Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia.

In the daily Examiner update on Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 response, El Jones calls out Dr. Robert Strang and Premier Stephen McNeil for their change in tone now that Black communities are registering cases of COVID-19.

In the course of announcing a new temporary assessment centre in North Preston, both Strang and McNeil specifically named several other Black communities (as well as Enfield), with McNeil going on to say, “the reckless and selfish few in these communities are still having parties.”

Several days earlier at their April 5th press conference, a temporary assessment centre for Enfield was announced, with Strang warning reporters, “we also have to be careful about stigmatizing and labelling communities.”

El Jones takes a look at the change in tone embodied on Tuesday:

In the province’s previous COVID-19 daily press conferences, we have heard about the importance of preserving privacy, of not stigmatizing communities, and of the public not lashing out at businesses or other places where the virus has been identified.

All of that seemed to go out of the window on Tuesday, when both Dr. Robert Strang and Premier Stephen McNeil took aim at Black communities that have been identified as having infections.

When it was largely white people with money to travel who were returning to the province, we heard about confidentiality. When it was a St. Patrick’s Day party, we were carefully told that the information was only being made public to help identify cases and that we should not lay blame.

But now that Black communities also have virus spread, the tone has changed.

Read the full story here.

3. Autoport workers test positive amidst concerns over lack of social distancing

“The confirmation of two COVID-19 cases of Autoport employees has heightened concerns among workers already uneasy about their inability to maintain social distancing on the job,”  writes Yvette d’Entremont in her latest piece for the Halifax Examiner. d’Entremont reports that workers were informed Monday night that they would be called back once work areas were disinfected.

d’Entremont spoke with union president Terry McKimm, who questions the ‘essential’ status applied to Autoport workers, who are employees of CN, which has been deemed essential.

“The work that’s supposed to be covered is work that’s directly related to operation and maintenance of the railway, and essentially they’re a large parking lot,” he said. “They (Autoport workers) move cars from one side to the other.”

McKimm said changes “absolutely need to be made” on the site. He said a little more than a week ago, 10 workers were sent home without pay for refusing to get into vans. Due to their inability to maintain social distancing requirements in such close quarters, they deemed the action unsafe.

McKimm said they’ve filed union grievances on behalf of those workers.

“When the 10 people refused to work, the manager of the plant went to the additional workers that perform that job and told them that they had a choice to go home without pay or get in the van and do the job,” McKimm said.

“The order from the Nova Scotia government absolutely says social distancing is to be practiced. The current practices at Autoport are not meeting the social distancing measures that are supposed to be implemented.”

Read the full story here. 

4. Making the switch from underwear to personal protective equipment

Jennifer Henderson reports on the re-opening of the Stanfield’s factory in Truro, which will start manufacturing personal protective equipment (PPE) to meet massive new demand brought on by the new coronavirus pandemic.  Reports Henderson:

While hundreds of thousands of Canadians have been laid off work, Stanfield’s Limited is in hiring mode.

It’s preparing to re-open its landmark brick 1880s factory in Truro and hire between 72 and 108 new workers to make disposable hospital gowns for front-line health care workers in Nova Scotia and across Canada.

The pandemic had forced the company to close its doors and lay off 200 employees on March 16 after sales of underwear and T-shirts crashed. But now, just a few weeks later, the pandemic has created a new opportunity for Stanfield’s to manufacture protective personal equipment (PPE), which is in short supply for health care workers in contact with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients.

The federal government has placed an order for 100,000 isolation gowns each week, from the beginning of May until the end of October. Those 2.6 million gowns will be worth $24 million to Stanfields. The Nova Scotia Health Authority has ordered 30,000 gowns a week for a period of four months, with the first to be delivered by the end of next week. The value of that work is $4.32 million, with an option for more if required.

Read the full story here.

5. How sign language and real-time captioning are including Deaf and hard-of-hearing Nova Scotians in news on COVID-19

Debbie Johnson, left, and Richard Martell provide sign language interpretation for the daily conferences with Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang. Photo: Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent gets behind-the-scenes with the sign language interpreters and caption writers that are helping to make Nova Scotia’s daily COVID-19 briefings accessible to Deaf and hard-of-hearing people. I’ve noticed plenty of online accolades for interpreter Richard Martell’s work at the almost daily conferences, but as Rent discovers, there’s actually two people making the real-time interpretation happen.

There are actually two interpreters at each conference. Behind the scenes is Debbie Johnson, who is hearing. She listens to McNeil and Strang and interprets what they’re saying. She sits in a chair not far from the desk where McNeil and Strang sit, and in between lights and a camera focused on Martell. Martell takes what Johnson signs and interprets that message to viewers who are Deaf. Johnson signs in American Sign Language (ASL) while Martell uses a combination of American Sign Language and Maritime Sign Language (MSL), sort of a regional dialect of ASL, into a language that is culturally and linguistically appropriate for the audience.

Read the full story here.

6. SiRT to investigate death during Halifax Regional Police call in Clayton Park West

The province’s Serious Incident Response Team has started an investigation into a death that occurred during a police call to a residence in Clayton Park West. From their release:

Early this morning, HRP responded to a call at a residence about a disturbance between a male and female. Upon entering the apartment, police noticed the male on the balcony. Shortly thereafter, the male went over the balcony, falling to the ground below. Police rendered aid, but the male died at the scene.

7. City council meets Thursday to consider revised hospital parking proposal

Revised site plan for the QEII hospital redevelopment project, from HRM staff report, April 9, 2020.

A staff report recommending in favour of a revised proposal for a parkade, between the Museum of Natural History and Bell Road, is the only agenda item listed for a special virtual meeting of HRM city council tomorrow, Thursday, April 9th.

The report briefly outlines the new provincial plan to build an eight-level, 512-stall parkade on the north side of the museum (5a in the image above) instead of the previously proposed 900-space parkade to the south of the museum. In addition, the province’s “concept site plan” reveals a proposed 1000-stall parkade (5b in image above) to fully replace the current Robie Street parkade at the site.

The staff report outlines the pros of the PNS (province of Nova Scotia) proposal as follows:

The hospital project will result in new development facing streets and other public open spaces within the Halifax Common, an important area of the city. Ideally, utilitarian structures such as parkades and physical plants should be situated to the rear of other buildings to minimize their impact on the public realm. The current PNS proposal will continue to have the parkade and physical plant in prominent locations. However, there are several positive changes relative to the previous proposal:

  • the new 500 stall parkade is smaller and can fit entirely on PNS lands to the north of the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, thereby avoiding impacts to the Bengal Lancers and the Wanderers Grounds;
  • the 500 stall parkade will be setback approximately 6m from Summer Street, which is more consistent with the setbacks found for other institutional buildings on the Halifax Common;
  • with the parkade relocation there may be a future opportunity to establish new public open space between the museum and Wanderers Grounds;
  • the greenspace at the corner of Bell Road and Summer Street would be retained; and
  • the potential of a future three storey parking structure over Summer Street is no longer envisioned and has replaced by a pedway, which provides unimpeded access to the hospital while being far less imposing on the public realm.

HRM is not being asked to approve the project per se, but rather to agree to the “three elements of the plan that require municipal approval,” according to the staff report.  Those elements are:

  • a pedway across Summer Street connecting the new parkade to the Halifax Infirmary,
  • a reduction in the planned widening of Bell Road first agreed to back in 2010 when the old Queen Elizabeth High School land changed hands,
  • and a Bell Road driveway for the new parkade (as pictured below.)
New QEII parkade site plan, from HRM staff report, April 9, 2002

It’s still up in the air if the reduced proposed widening for Bell Road would mean giving up new bike lanes or new vehicle lanes. The staff report indicates that planned pedestrian infrastructure would remain, but that there will be some future debate over bike lanes versus vehicle lanes on Bell Road:

The proposed reduction in the anticipated right-of-way width now proposed is considerable. However, this would still provide a 3m (10’) tree lawn and 3m (10’) sidewalk. Bicycle lanes could still be established, but this would be in lieu of additional vehicle capacity on Bell Road. Although the details need to be determined, this approach is supported by the Integrated Mobility Plan. Therefore, the reduction to 6m is acceptable.

An in-camera staff report from January 14, 2020 discussing the province’s original proposal has now been declassified. For more background on the proposal and the massive redevelopment project, see Jennifer Henderson’s story from January 30, 2020.


Views

1. Making social distancing for pedestrians a priority

Martyn Williams wants HRM to harness the power of the mighty traffic cone (as well as sturdier barriers) to free up space for pedestrian social distancing. Photo: Amazon.ca

Over in the Nova Scotia Advocate, Martyn Williams makes a case for blocking off underutilized traffic lanes to make way for pedestrians in need of social distancing space on sidewalks.

In the absence of any practical guidance or action from leadership on maintaining social distance on sidewalks, pedestrians are dealing with this issue by walking in the road when they pass others. This is easier for some than others and obviously impossible for anyone using a mobility scooter and wheelchair. It is also unsafe, especially in current conditions where many drivers are moving well in excess of the speed limit due to the lack of traffic

What could be done to make the movement of people on essential journeys safer? The most obvious and widely available method is to free up space from currently underused roads using road cones, bollards or temporary barriers, as completed already in many cities including London, Ontario.

This could be most useful along roads where shops selling essential supplies are still open, for example Spring Garden Road where traffic lanes are currently wider than is strictly required and recommended for urban routes. Also Quinpool Road, where police were reported to be ordering pedestrians to keep 6 feet apart.

We could also deploy temporary barriers along our very many overly wide and underused multiple-lane urban highway-style routes, for example Lacewood, Pleasant Street, Dunbrack and Joseph Howe Drive. These bloated roads are built wide to ensure traffic keeps moving even during peak periods, which is no longer a factor given so many are working from home or not working at all right now.

2. Parks vs Paths

I got in a dust-up on Twitter yesterday for voicing my concern that the city has roped off a pathway through the neighbourhood park I live beside.  This park is smack dab in the middle of a mega-block, which means the path through it is a pretty key pedestrian corridor. In terms of use, it’s basically a sidewalk, connecting two parallel streets. Ever since the province and HRM issued their orders closing parks and some trails, I had assumed this route qualified as one of the “residential pathways that connect streets” which HRM guidelines say can be used.

But not so, according to the patient people at 311/ContactHRM. In their email reply to my inquiry, they informed me that, “because that pathway connects to the park and playground, it has been closed. This must happen so that residents understand they are not able to access these areas, and to encourage people to stay home.”

There’s a couple of problems with this. One, this path is not the access to the park (which is surrounded by sidewalks, houses, and buildings) and closing it will most likely have no impact on continued park use. And two, the pathway was helping my neighbours and me actually maintain social distance when we need to walk in our neighbourhood.

The 6 feet of yellow tape stretched across this key neighbourhood corridor has done little to impact use of the park that I can see from my kitchen window. Don’t get me wrong, this is no Point Pleasant. Since the closure of parks, it still sees the occasional rogue teen (or worse, teens) shooting hoops. Maybe the occasional dog walker throwing a ball. And up until very recently when the playground was finally taped off, it saw short bursts of non-distancing kids playing on the equipment. Thankfully, the tape around the playground seems to be doing the trick of keeping kids at bay. But the tape across the pathway? It gets weird looks from people as they scooch around it on their way to the grocery store.

Which brings me to the worst aspect of this path closure: the alternative. Instead of this path, anyone following the rules will be forced to use a city sidewalk, with a major bus stop, and on a busy street where it’s rarely — if ever — safe to take a vehicle lane while someone passes. So, in their efforts to enforce a provincial order, HRM is forcing my neighbours and me into more close contact with each other, not less.

It’s not just about me, of course.  The city is chock-a-block full of pedestrian or active transportation thoroughfares that happen to run through city parks that are now closed. The Commons is an obvious example of a major AT network hub that is officially closed, forcing people to travel on its outer sidewalk perimeter.

The message from city politicians on Twitter seemed to be, we’re just following orders here, but I’d argue the municipality has choices. They can choose to implement orders to close parks in an effective way that actually keeps people from gathering and helps people in dense neighbourhoods maintain distance, or they can just announce that parks are closed, apply some yellow tape when they get around to it, and ignore the consequences.

During the online deliberations of friends and acquaintances on this topic (some friendlier than others), I learned of some other approaches that might inform what Halifax is doing to keep people distanced on city property. Here’s a look at a couple of tactics:

This city of Ottawa sign says, “This park and its amenities are CLOSED except for walk through.”  It also uses some distinctly Month Python-esque illustrations which, I gotta say, makes 2-metre social distancing seem even wackier than it is.

City of Ottawa park closure notice, posted by Facebook Robert Pihlaja, who was very correctly pointing out the Monty Python-esque illustrations.

Then there’s this initiative by the Vancouver Park Board, which has hired erstwhile recreation programmers, clad them in fluorescents, and tasked them with reminding people to stay distanced.

The Vancouver Park Board has staff serving as park “Champions”, patrolling parks that remain open and educating people about social distancing. Source: Vancouver Park Board on Twitter.

Is it possible that Halifax could actually see more success keeping people separated by combining these two approaches? Let the pedestrian transportation network stand, even if it cuts through the occasional park. Instead of yellow tape, post Parks and Recreation staff in parks and near playgrounds or ball courts to remind people they are closed, and that social distancing is still vital on sidewalks and pathways. Nip the gathering teens and dog walkers in the bud with a friendly face, and save the cops and punitive measures for when that doesn’t work. And most of all, take responsibility for helping people actually maintain distance, instead of hindering them.


Noticed

People are getting their Easter on, and also noticing the increased speeds of drivers on emptier roads. This picture was tweeted out by Norm Collins (@CrosswalkSafety), with the following entreaty:



Government

City

All scheduled subcommittee meetings are cancelled. Halifax council will have a virtual meeting on Thursday.

Province

No public meetings, virtual or otherwise.


In the harbour

09:30: CMA CGM Tage, container ship, moves from Pier 41 to Pier 42; it is a dead ship
10:30: Sarah Desgagnes, oil tanker, arrives at anchorage from Saint John
11:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
15:00: CMA CGM Tage sails for sea
18:30: Sarah Desgagnes moves to Irving Oil
23:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, sails from National Gypsum for sea


Footnotes

Anyone else having trouble taking social media breaks, now that everything social is online?

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2 Comments

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  1. Great coverage Tim. I am particularly interested in the sign language story. Here in Columbus Ohio, the interpreters are such a key part of the governor’s daily briefing.

    For anyone not reading the Washington Post, note the quotable Bousquet in the John Prine Tribute:

    “Does any single lyrical line better get at existential despair than ‘To believe in this living is just a hard way to go?’ ” wrote Tim Bousquet in the Halifax Examiner after the songwriter’s family announced last month that he was critically ill.
    “I think John Prine has something to teach us in these difficult times,” Bousquet added. “His talent, perhaps genius, is that he can view the world from his characters’ perspectives, get into those characters’ inner monologues, and give them the respect — even love — they deserve.”

    Heartbroken about Prine, often feeling existential despair about living here but weirdly (maternally?) proud to see you quoted. Take heart all and stay well.

  2. The article on closing parks and walk-throughs (and the Premier’s recent testiness) demonstrates a latent authoritarian streak in Nova Scotian politicians and bureaucrats. It’s no wonder it gets reflected in law enforcement actions in normal times and during a crisis. “We’ll restrict you because we can”, seems to be the attitude. This could be a real learning opportunity but I bet our governments will pass it up.