News

1. StFX outbreak

St. Francis Xavier University

The COVID outbreak at Saint Francis Xavier University continues, with 123 new cases province-wide Friday, 129 Saturday, and 111 Sunday — not all of these are related to StFX, but the large majority are.

Public Health notes that “some cases associated with this outbreak are being counted in Central Zone (the Halifax area) because of the address on the student’s health card. That is why not all of these cases are reflected in the Eastern Zone (Antigonish is in the Eastern Zone) numbers.”

On Saturday, Dalhousie University reported that it had learned of “six members of our residence community in Halifax who received positive COVID-19 test results through rapid testing. These individuals — five in Howe Hall, and one in Risley Hall — have been instructed to undertake PCR (lab) testing and are now in self-isolation as per our approved COVID-19 residence support plan. We are also aware of two off-campus student cases that have been reported to the university. We thank these students for taking immediate action.” There’s no indication yet whether the Dal cases are connected to StFX.

As I reported Saturday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang has a somewhat upbeat prognosis:

We’re seeing the protective effect of vaccines. All the cases we have now are relatively mild illness — it’s a flu-like illness, not comfortable. A lot of kids are sick with fever, chills, malaise. But we’re not seeing any impact, people not having to go to emergency rooms, not having to be hospitalized. And I think that’s attributable to this being in a younger age group by and large, but also many, the majority of these people, are vaccinated, at least at least a single dose, many of them with two doses of vaccine.

Typically, hospitalization numbers lag two or three weeks behind new case numbers, as people get increasingly sick and land in the hospital, so I hope Strang isn’t being overly optimistic here.

The risk, as I see it, isn’t so much on the StFX (and/or Dal) students themselves — as Strang says, given their age and vaccination status, they’ll probably make it through their illnesses just fine — but rather that as with the church outbreak a few weeks ago, the virus spreads further afield to more vulnerable elderly or immunocompromised people. The camp meeting outbreak, after all, led directly to an outbreak at a Pugwash nursing home, where three people died from COVID.

That’s the thing with this virus: it’s wily and opportunistic.

This is what pandemic control is all about: preventing the spread of the virus so as to limit its ability to get to the most vulnerable among us. There are terrible people who say terrible stuff like “it only kills the elderly and people with preexisting conditions,” as if we shouldn’t care about the elderly and people with preexisting conditions. The people who say such things are, indeed, terrible, but the rest of us who have elderly people and immunocompromised people we love and care about, or just don’t want them dying needlessly even if we don’t know them, should continue to take reasonable precautions to limit the spread of the virus.

This morning, the province announced that self-testing kits are now available at libraries across the province. The kits come in packs of five, and there is a limit of one kit per person.

Dr. Strang and Premier Tim Houston have scheduled a COVID briefing for 3pm this afternoon, presumably to update us on the StFX outbreak. I’ll be following along on my Twitter account.

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2. Houston and health care

Premier Tim Houston at the COVID briefing, Dec. 7, 2021. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

“[Premier Tim] Houston isn’t responsible for creating the firehose of health care crises currently washing over us and threatening to wash us away, of course, but he campaigned last summer almost exclusively on the promise that he could — and would — fix it,” writes Stephen Kimber:

That pledge explains why we not only handed him the keys to the premier’s office but also gave him a majority government of a limo and told him to get on with it.

So, now he will be judged on how well he does.

While Houston has quite rightly piled on the caveats — there will be no easy or quick fixes to a health care system that was decades in the breaking — Nova Scotians will want to see real progress on an almost impossible panoply of problems in 2022.

  • How will we find enough family doctors to care for our current population?
  • How will we train — and retain — enough new family physicians to catch up — and keep up — with our expected population growth?
  • How can we add more health professionals to the system — physician assistants, nurse practitioners, etc. — to reduce some of the pressures on the family doctors we do have?
  • How will we reduce the ever-escalating number of “temporary” emergency room closures in rural Nova Scotia?
  • How will we — in the alternative, or as a supplement, develop community-based alternatives for hard-to-staff rural ERs?
  • How will we reduce ambulance wait times?
  • How will we decrease ambulance off-loading times at already overwhelmed urban emergency rooms?
  • How will we attract enough nurses, nurse practitioners and licenced practical nurses to fill nearly 1,500 current vacancies?
  • How will we increase core nurse staffing levels that haven’t changed in the last 20 years?
  • How will we change the minds of the 60% of currently working but over-stressed, under-resourced nurses who say they intend to change careers in the next year?
  • How will we make Tim Houston’s promise to create 2,500 new long-term care beds in his first three years in office come true?
  • How will we match our mental health needs to fiscal and human resources?

That, of course, is just a sampler of the multitude and multiplicity of problems we face.

Click here to read “Health care, health care, health care: Tim Houston’s 2022 to-do list.”

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3. Frank Eckhardt arrested

F.E. Properties sign in Cape Breton September 2021. Photo: Joan Baxter

“Frank Eckhardt, the controversial land seller who advertises his advisory services to German-speaking ‘new settlers’ in Cape Breton, and who featured in several media articles in 2020 because of his far-right views and alleged gouging of German clients, has been arrested and charged with extortion,” reports Joan Baxter:

In a press release [Friday], the RCMP reported that Eckhardt, 56, who lives in Grand River, which is about 20 kilometres east of St. Peter’s, has been released on conditions. He will appear in provincial court in Port Hawkesbury on February 28, 2022.

According to the RCMP, the investigation began in early December after the RCMP received reports of two people being extorted by the landlord. The press release continues:

During the course of the investigation, police learned that the two victims had immigrated to Canada, from Germany, with assistance from a man who would become their landlord. The victims had opened a business and were renting commercial space from the man. When the victims explored options for properly breaking their lease agreement, the man demanded money or property from the victims or he would ensure that the victims temporary work visas were revoked, which would result in their deportation.

The Halifax Examiner has been told by one source in the area who wishes to remain anonymous that the commercial space in question is a gym facility in St. Peter’s that Eckhardt purchased. Eckhardt had allegedly been charging the couple, fairly recently landed from Germany, $3,800 a month to stay there, while they also ran the gym on his behalf.

Click here to read “Controversial Cape Breton land seller Frank Eckhardt arrested, charged with extortion.”

Baxter, who speaks German, has been extensively reporting on the sale of Cape Breton properties to Germans, the pitch couched in far-right-wing extremism. As she reported on November 23:

Another of the real estate companies marketing Cape Breton to German speakers is F.E. Properties, “Your partner for land acquisition in Canada.”

F.E Properties is owned by Frank Eckhardt, whom Der Spiegel described as having the far-right leanings of the “Reichsbürger” (Citizens of the Reich) movement in Germany. According to German public radio, Reichsbürgers deny the legitimacy of the modern German state that developed after the fall of Nazi Germany.

Der Spiegel alleged that Eckhardt sends out emails that deny the Holocaust and promote Nazi ideology, and the Examiner reported here on his survivalist or prepper views, and his appearances promoting these on German television and online.

[After she contacted him for the article,] Eckhardt asked why I was not writing an article about “Kristallnacht” of August 28 in St. Peter’s [when his real estate signs were defaced].

Kristallnacht — the “night of broken glass” — is the name given to the first of a series of pogroms against the Jewish population in Germany that was unleashed on the night of November 9 to 10, 1938, when Nazis killed close to 100 Jews, vandalizing and destroying their homes, businesses, and synagogues, and in its aftermath, arrested 30,000 Jewish men who were sent to concentration camps.

Eckhardt is scheduled to appear in Port Hawkesbury Provincial Court on February 28, 2022.

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4. Virtual care

“The province has announced an expansion of a pilot program to allow people in Nova Scotia Health’s Central and Eastern health zones to access a primary care provider online,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

In a media release Friday, the Department of Health and Wellness said those in the central and eastern parts of the province who are on the Need a Family Practice Registry will start receiving invitations for VirtualCareNS next week.

On Monday, Nova Scotia Health will begin contacting those living in Central and Eastern zones by email, beginning with communities with the largest number of people on the registry. They’ll first contact those who have been on the registry the longest. Anyone wishing to update their email address on file can call 811.

Click here to read “VirtualCareNS project to expand to Central, Eastern health zones.”

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5. “Nothing about us, without us”

Photo: Halifax Examiner

“Lawyers for two Halifax-based medical researchers and the chief of the Pictou Landing First Nation are in Nova Scotia Supreme Court Monday to discuss the latest steps in a potential class-action lawsuit involving members of the Nova Scotia Indigenous community and their families and friends,” reports Blair Rhodes for the CBC:

Chief Andrea Paul is the named plaintiff in the case against researchers Robert Miller and Sharon Clarke.

Paul alleges she and 60 other people were subjected to MRI scans without their knowledge or consent.

According to court documents, Paul was at the QE2 Health Sciences Centre in Halifax in March 2017 to have an MRI.

Paul and other members of her community had agreed to participate in a study for the Canadian Alliance for Healthy Hearts and Minds.

Brian Hebert, Paul’s lawyer, alleges that after the MRI scans were done for the study, she was kept in the machine for additional scans for a separate project being conducted by defendants Miller and Clarke. Miller and Clarke work for the QE2 Health Sciences Centre and Dalhousie University.

That study, according to the statement of claim, was looking at “MRI elastography of the liver of Indigenous subjects.”

“She felt violated and humiliated,” Hebert wrote in the notice of action on Paul’s behalf.

“They’re saying, ‘Nothing about us, without us,’” Hebert said in an interview. “That’s the mantra now within the Indigenous community when it comes to research.”

None of the claims have been tested in court, nor has the class been certified.

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6. Things keep falling

During the high winds Sunday morning, a 20-metre light mast at the approach to the MacKay Bridge collapsed onto Victoria Road, damaging two vehicles but thankfully, no one was injured, reports Rebecca Lau for Global:

HHB [Halifax Harbour Bridges] said the masts were installed by the Department of Transportation in 2001 and were most recently inspected three years ago, when the top halogen-lighting section was replaced by an LED system.

“There was no sign of fatigue at that time,” HHB noted.

Apparently, things just fall down now, cranes, lights, bridges, whatever.

Because I can, I’ll free associate here to mention the Raymond Carver short story “Vitamins,” which is about a lot of things, and if you’re curious, here’s Eileen Abrahams writing about it with the intelligence it deserves. All I know is that when I read the story in my 20s, I was struck by its ending, which has stayed with me since:

I knocked stuff out of the medicine cabinet. Things rolled into the sink. ‘Where’s the aspirin?’ I said. I knocked down more things. I didn’t care. ‘Goddamn it,’ I said. Things kept falling.

“Things kept falling” captures a kind of despair and hopelessness that resonated with 20-something me, who was full of hope and promise, so I don’t know why it did, but so it goes. (It’s almost a good a line as good as Carver’s other great line, the title of his short story and subsequent collection, “Will You Please be Quiet Please?”)

I wasn’t the only one captured by the line “things kept falling,” as director Robert Altman used Carver’s short stories as inspiration for the film Short Cuts, which he placed in Los Angeles and which culminates in an earthquake scene, where, yep, things kept falling.

It strikes me that Carver may have been decades before his time, and was shining a spotlight on the disenchantment of American society that has evolved into the present nihilism, but that’s a theory I’ll have to wait to explore until the next bong circle.

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Government

City

Monday

Executive Standing Committee (Monday, 10am, City Hall) — and online

Grants Committee (Monday, 10am) — livestreamed

Board of Police Commissioners (Monday, 12:30pm, City Hall) — no live broadcast

Advisory Committee on Accessibility in HRM (Monday, 4pm) — livestreamed

North West Community Council (Monday, 6pm) — livestreamed

Tuesday

Budget Committee and Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 10am, City Hall) — Budget Committee livestreamed; Halifax Regional Council livestreamed

Province

Monday

No meetings

Tuesday

Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am, One Government Place) — organizational and agenda-setting meeting

Veterans Affairs (Tuesday, 2pm, One Government Place) — two items: Nova Scotia/Nunavut Command of the Royal Canadian Legion; Update on Current Affairs, Funds and Services


On campus

Dalhousie

PhD Thesis Defence, Mathematics and Statistics (Monday, 9am) — by Joseph Mingrone

PhD Thesis Defence, Mechanical Engineering (Monday, 9:30am) — by Zipeng Huang


In the harbour

Halifax
05:30: Morning Composer, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Zeebrugge, Belgium
05:30: Acadian, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
06:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
08:30: Hyundai Faith, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
11:30: CMA CGM Panama, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
15:30: Morning Composer sails for sea
16:30: Tropic Hope sails for sea

Cape Breton 
06:00: Algoma Vision, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for Port Hawkesbury
06:30: Seletar Spirit, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
07:30: Dubai Angel, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from Es Sider, Libya
08:00: JMC-256, barge, sails from Port Hawkesbury Paper for sea
08:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from Baltimore
15:15: CSL Tacoma, bulker, arrives at Point Tupper coal pier from Sydney


Footnotes

This is me, taking it easy.


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Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. It was announced last night that StFX President Andy Hakin has tested positive for COVID.

    Is that the very definition of “poetic justice”?

  2. As Tim observed recently, the characterization of “mild” COVID cases due to the StFX event is disingenuous as many are very ill, and others extremely worried. All of this evolving mess is directly attributable to an astonishingly poor decision made by StFX administrators to stage an optional campus event. These admin placed the university’s “brand management” over the basic duty-of-care of students, faculty, staff, and the community. Consequences?

    1. The decision of StFX to stage this non essential event was selfish and arrogant. It defies logic. I hope that the University suffers sanctions as a deterrent to other similarly out of touch institutions against such reckless actions in the middle of a pandemic.

      1. As you can tell from Strang’s comments, StFX will suffer no real consequences from this selfish act. All you will get is a weasely statement from the university’s president purporting to be an apology – but which really isn’t. He’s clearly not sorry that they held the event – he’s sorry “you people” got sick. That ugly ring is no longer a mark of pride, but a circle of shame. No self-respecting person would wear it now.