News

1. Back to School

Child health experts say benefits of return to school far outweigh the risks. Photo: Stock image

School starts in Nova Scotia today, and everyone is understandably anxious.

Over the weekend, the Department of Health announced that a new case of COVID-19 was discovered in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone, which is mostly HRM. That new case is still under investigation by Public Health, so we don’t yet know if it was a traveller coming in from outside the Atlantic Bubble or a case of community spread. There are now four known active cases of the disease in Nova Scotia.

There’s no doubt that, given our very low number of cases, school reopening in Nova Scotia presents much, much less risk than the horror shows we’re seeing in the United States. Assuming — and this is a giant assumption — that all cases of coronavirus in the province have been detected, and that all new cases coming in from outside the Bubble have self-isolated, are quickly detected, and contact tracing is effective, the further spread of the disease, including in schools, should be very limited.

But we’ve been appropriately operating as if the disease won’t be entirely successfully contained. That’s why we still are maintaining physical distancing, wearing masks, limiting gathering sizes, and practicing all the suggested public health precautions — should the virus get out in the wild, its spread will be reduced.

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union and the premier have been going back-and-forth about preparations for today.

I was confused when Dr. Strang laid out the three-tier levels of risk at schools, as follows:

— High Risk: when someone at a school tests positive for COVID-19, those at high risk are people who were within six feet of that person for more than 15 minutes, starting 48 hours before the person showed signs of being sick. This is the same definition that Public Health uses for “close contact.” For lower grades, the close contacts would likely be the entire single-class cohort; for high school grades, that could be multiple classrooms. Even if they test negative, the close contacts will be required to go home to self-isolate for 14 days.

— Medium Risk: a person is considered at medium risk when they kept six feet distance from the positive case, but were in the same room for extended periods. Strang said the response to these situations may evolve as there is more experience with them, but for the time-being, these situations will be treated the same as the high-risk category; that is, they will all be required to go home to self-isolate for 14 days.

— Low Risk: Strang describe this as “brief” or “incidental” contact with a positive person — passing them in the hallway, for example. In these circumstances, no action is required.

On the surface, the three categories make sense, but they are still somewhat problematic, for three reasons.

First, Public Health officials, Dr. Strang, Minister of Education Zach Churchill, and Premier Stephen McNeil seem not to understand the extreme burden that 14-day isolation of students places on families. Not everyone has a spouse at home ready to care for children, or can work from home to at least provide an adult presence. The so-called essential workers can’t just go home for two weeks. People will lose their jobs because of the two-week stay at home orders. I think that in the balance of risks by public officials, there is a professional, white collar bias to the structure: increase risk upfront (by, for example, not having high schoolers on a half-schedule) because it’s “easy” (for them and those like them) to address a breakout with 14-day stay at home orders.

Second, I’ve never seen addressed the implications for multi-child families. If a Grade 4 student has to self-isolate because of close contact with an infected person, does their Grade 3 sibling also have to self-isolate?

Third, while I see the logical sense in the three-tier system, it doesn’t seem to reflect the real-world scenario of what happened at Murphy’s Fish & Chips. This is why I have been demanding more information about that spread. Initially, Public Health did not issue a public advisory about potential exposure to the disease because, it seems, the person who tested positive did not fit into what we are now calling the high-risk tier. But then, a second person tested positive and… well, what? We don’t know. Did the second person fall into what we’re no calling the low-risk tier, and if so, doesn’t that call into question the entire structure? I don’t know how we can trust the Back to School plan without a fully transparent explanation for what happened at Murphy’s.

All that said, I’m relatively optimistic Back to School won’t be a disaster. Unless, that is, the university side of things doesn’t work out as planned.

The requirements placed on university students coming from outside the Bubble are good, but they rely to a-not-insignificant degree on trust that young people will obey the rules. Most certainly will. But “most” isn’t good enough.

And it seems McNeil sees the university plan as a dry run for opening up Nova Scotia to the rest of Canada without the Bubble, without the requirement for self-isolation. If schools go sideways, that will be the reason, I think.

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2. Living wage

Writes Stephen Kimber:

The math: anyone earning minimum wage in Halifax today makes $9.25 an hour less than — or just under 60% of — a bare minimum living wage. Or, put another way, the CCPA says a minimum wage worker in Halifax would need to work at least 60 hours a week to earn even a basic, no-frills livable weekly wage.

The question is what can we do about that?

One answer is for municipal governments to take the lead, establishing a new economic floor by requiring companies seeking government contracts to demonstrate they’re paying their workers at least a living wage before they will even be considered for procurement contracts.

In February 2017, then still freshly minted HRM Coun. Lindell Smith, put forward a motion asking — in the usual bureaucratese — city staff to come up with recommendations for “a policy framework for the consideration of social-economic benefit, employee compensation/living wage and environmental impacts in the procurement process.”

So… not just paying a living wage but also encouraging workforce diversity, etc.

More than three years and many delays later, city staff last month came finally back with what  my colleague Zane Woodford described as “a mealy-mouthed social procurement policy.”

No kidding.

Click here to read “The fight for a living wage policy in Halifax continues… still.”

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3. HIV prevention drugs

Shelley Taylor. Photo: CATIE

Reports Philip Moscovitch:

“PrEP [pre-exposure prophylaxis] represents an exciting advancement in HIV prevention” said Shelley Taylor, regional health education coordinator (Atlantic & Pacific Regions) for CATIE, a Toronto-based non-profit that describes itself as “Canada’s source for accessible, evidence-based information about HIV and hepatitis C prevention, testing, care, treatment and support.”

Taylor (who many in Halifax may remember as the founder and former owner of Venus Envy), said in an email interview that for people who use PrEP and “have regular ongoing medical care it is rare to get HIV through sex.” It also  “dramatically lowers the risk of getting HIV from sharing needles to inject drugs.”

Taylor said, “When you consider the cost to the public healthcare system of an HIV infection over a lifetime, providing PrEP access to people at risk of infection is cost-effective. We should embrace its potential to eliminate HIV transmission in Canada.”

But there are multiple barriers to accessing PrEP in Nova Scotia. The medication can be expensive, the cost is only covered for some people, and there is still a lingering stigma. “Unfortunately, Taylor said, ” not all people at risk of HIV infection — or their service providers — know about PrEP or its potential.”

Click here to read “Cost, stigma, ignorance: Barriers abound for access to HIV prevention drugs.”

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4. Nurses

School nurse and educator Robin Cogan. Photo: relentlessschoolnurse.com

“Nova Scotia has a long history of school nurses. But their role has decreased as schools turn to other health professionals. And in the midst of a pandemic, that may be a problem,” reports Philip Moscovitch:

“Nurses have this ability to look at the individual child — the whole child. But we also have the ability to look at the population as a whole,” school nurse and educator Robin Cogan said in an interview. Cogan is a nationally recognized school nurse in Camden City, New Jersey, who runs the Relentless School Nurse blog. She’s a fierce advocate for the importance of having nurses in schools. In New Jersey, she said, “there is typically a certified school nurse in every building.”

Click here to read “Is it time for more nurses in schools?”

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5. Heritage property

The heritage building on the property at 1029 Tower Rd. This side faces Inglis Street. Photo: ZZap Consulting/HRM

“A developer has applied to modify a south end heritage property dating back to 1873 and build a new three-storey apartment building on the same lot,” reports Zane Woodford:

The proponents have applied for a development agreement for the property at 1029 Tower Rd., near the intersection with Inglis Street.

Click here to read “Developer applies to modify south end Halifax heritage property, add three-storey apartment building.”

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6. It won’t

“The returning officer for the Municipality of the District of Yarmouth hopes electronic voting will increase voter participation in the October municipal elections in spite of COVID-19,” reports Pam Berman for the CBC.

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Views

1. Queen’s Marque

Water Street in front of Queen’s Marque. Photo: Stephen Archibald

“Ever since the Queen’s Marque development on the Halifax Waterfront was announced, some scamps on Twitter have been trash talking the project,” writes Stephen Archibald, I think referring to me.

Archibald goes on to give a relatively positive, albeit tentative review of the building and its surroundings.

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2. Airbnb

Halifax lawyer Barbara Darby searched Canadian case law for litigation involving Airbnbs, and found this:

I found Clancy v. Harvey. Shauna Clancy and her American sister wanted to rent a “high end” cottage in the Lake of the Woods area. The found Glen Harvey’s ad for a “Beaut. Fin. & comp. equipped 3 B.R. cedar home”:

Lge. acreage right on waterfront.  Incl. 6 hole pitch & putt golf course, horseshoe pit, paddle boat, canoe, 30 HP Johnson fishing boat, lge. dock space & for the kids floating swim dock, play structure, tube, skis, trampoline.  Fab. open flr. plan w/marble OFP, Euro. kit., Halogen lights, fully furn., TV, VCR, satellite dish, DVD stereo movie theatre, AC.  Screened in room with sunken hot tub & much more.  Video avail.  Call Glen at 837-7000.

Clancy was particularly reassured, because Harvey was a realtor (a Glen Harvey is still listed with ReMax in Winnipeg), so she assumed he would be experienced in dealing with property. When Clancy and Harvey met at his office, he was said to have put a pressure sell on her. A deal-maker for her was his reassurance that there were “newer” good quality beds at the rental; Clancy’s guests were “big,” one with a bad back, who needed good beds. Clancy signed up for the first week of August for $6,000.

… When Clancy and her sister and kids showed up to start the rental, they found Harvey and his wife, 2 kids, and 3 dogs there wrapping up their own vacation. Harvey’s kids were swimming, his dogs running around the living room, and one dog jumped into the hot tub.

The renters were clearly disappointed, but decided to make the best of it. They demanded that Harvey’s family vacuum, remove their clothing, “burnt matches and food wrappers and, in one case, dirty underwear” from the closets and dressers, and take their razors and dental floss with them. The “newer” mattresses were less than new, repurposed from a home, one discontinued by the manufacturer 10 years earlier.

Their first day was spent travelling to nearby Kenora to get cleaning supplies, and cleaning.

… On day 2 they found the leak in the bathroom. Harvey helpfully suggested that “they put a garbage can underneath the leak because it was too difficult to get someone there to fix it.  He appeared to already know about the leak…”

Day 2 also involved a trip to Kenora. For 20 mousetraps…

It gets even worse; you can read it all here.

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Government

City

Tuesday

Halifax and West Community Council (6pm, virtual meeting) — the committee is considering the extension of the date for required start of construction of an already approved development at Bilby and Isleville Street, and a new application for a 12-storey building on Joseph Howe Drive.

Additionally, the committee is being asked to approve construction of 2.4 kilometres of “Phase 1” of the “North End All Ages and Abilities (AAA) Bikeway route” between North Ridge Road and Bloomfield Street, which will connect Africville Lookoff Park to the near north end, mostly via Iselville Street. Details here.

Wednesday

No public meetings.

Province

Tuesday

Health Committee (1-3 pm. Province House) — witnesses are Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of Health, Dr. Kevin Orrell, deputy minister of Health; and Jeannine Lagasse, associate deputy minister. The public is not allowed in Province House, while nine (not eight) reporters will be allowed to watch a video feed in the Red Room. Jennifer Henderson will be calling in for the Examiner.

Wednesday

Public Accounts (9-11am, Province House) — I hope to report on the proceedings.


In the harbour

Bishu Highway. Photo: Halifax Examiner

05:30: Bishu Highway, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
06:45: Canadian Bulker, bulker, arrives at Pier 28 from Sorel, Quebec
07:45: Asterix, replenishment vessel, moves from Dockyard to Irving Oil
11:30: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 41 to Pier 36
15:30: Bishu Highway sails for sea
15:30: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
16:00: Yantian Express, container ship, moves from Bedford Basin anchorage to Fairview Cove
16:00: Maersk Palermo, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Montreal
16:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Palm Beach, Florida


Footnotes

I couldn’t sleep last night.

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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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2 Comments

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  1. Tim, I am sympathetic about sleep loss. However is “understandingly”, as opposed to “understandably” a consequence of sleep loss, or a deliberately provocative choice of words?

    1. Not only did I not get enough sleep, I also was rushed and didn’t have a copy editor. So it goes.