News

1. Lockdown

Here we go again.

For the third time since October, the Halifax area is facing increased COVID restrictions. This time, the restrictions are more stringent, what Premier Iain Rankin calls “almost a full lockdown.”

I covered the details of the current outbreak here, and the details of the lockdown here.

Since yesterday’s reporting, there have been five more school-connected cases (for a total of 13), at:

  • Dartmouth South Academy, Dartmouth (a second case)
  • Ross Road School, Westphal
  • Holland Road Elementary, Fletchers Lake
  • St. Catherine’s Elementary, Halifax
  • St. Joseph’s-Alexander McKay Elementary, Halifax (a second case)

I’ll of course relate today’s updates as they come in, on my Twitter feed first and then as separate articles as needed. We also have other Examiner reporters on the crisis.

I don’t have much insight to offer this morning, except to say we’ve done this before. The challenge is much more difficult this time around, to be sure, but I’m heartened that twice before Haligonians have risen to the occasion. Besides adhering to public health protocols and the enhanced restrictions, in November and December tens of thousands of people lined up to get tested, and that made a significant difference; we were back to zero new daily cases by early January. The February outbreak wasn’t as broad, but again, with compliance and testing, we returned to zero.

Go get tested.

Pop-up testing for asymptomatic people over 16 (results usually within 20 minutes) has been scheduled for the following sites:

Friday
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Sackville Sports Stadium, noon-7pm

Saturday
Dartmouth North Community Centre, 9:30am-4:30pm

Sunday
East Dartmouth Community Centre, 9:30am-5:30pm

Public Health Mobile Units are available for drop-in and pre-booked appointments (symptomatic people must pre-book) for PCR tests for people of all ages (results within three days) at the following sites:

Friday
• Saint Vincent de Paul Church (320 Flying Cloud Dr., Darmouth), 9:30am-5:30pm
• Lake Echo Fellowship Baptist Church (17 Peter Ct., Mineville), 9:30am-5:30pm

Saturday
• Saint Vincent de Paul Church (320 Flying Cloud Dr., Darmouth), 9:30am-5:30pm
• Lake Echo Fellowship Baptist Church (17 Peter Ct., Mineville), 9:30am-5:30pm

But you can also get tested at the Nova Scotia Health labs by going here. There are clinic all across the province for collecting swabs.

Nova Scotia has done especially well through the pandemic. I don’t think it was the goal initially, but through happenstance and public demand, the political will arose to have, in effect, a zero COVID goal, and it was mostly achieved. If we can do it a third time, under these most challenging circumstances, I think we will have demonstrated to the world that there is a better approach than the haphazard half-measures taken most everywhere else.

Let’s do it.

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2. Consequences

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang at the COVID briefing, April 22, 2021

“We deserve answers. And we demand consequences,” writes David Rodenhiser:

Nova Scotians are rightly furious that the success we sacrificed to build in the fight against COVID 19 has been scuttled by a handful of uncaring narcissists who decided the rules don’t apply to them. And we are properly incensed that the perpetrators face neither charge nor fine. Not even a proper scolding.

Rodenhiser, a former Daily News editor and columnist who went on to work for Nova Scotia Power, perfectly encapsulates the broad anger that I saw across social media yesterday.

Click here to read “A handful of uncaring narcissists brought us to lockdown; why aren’t they facing consequences?”

Yesterday, I asked Strang about the “social gathering” he had mentioned Tuesday:

Bousquet: There’s a great deal of interest out there, and so I wonder if you could just explain what Public Health’s approach is to when you learn through contact tracing that there were events that shouldn’t have happened or people have violated public health laws. I could see it going both ways — that you might want to encourage people to be truthful so you don’t want to criminalize them, but on the other hand, they are breaking the policy. So what is your approach to this?

Strang: Our end goal is not about trying to find people [for] enforcement, but if it is part of our investigation, that ultimately we end up with definitive information that, you know, it has to be definitive that we could say that that was clear that individual or group of individuals made a clear violation of rules. We would bring that to the attention of law enforcement. But that’s not our that’s not the purpose of why we do an investigation. And we make that very clear to people that we’re not there to try to find people so they can be punished. We’re there. We need good, accurate information so we can get control of the disease. And in this circumstance, we haven’t got that definitive information. And it’s happened. Unfortunate. Now we have to deal with what we’re dealing with in the HRM area and bring things back under control.

In answer to follow up questions from other reporters, Strang continued:

We know there was an event where people [were] from out of province. Now, we haven’t been able to follow up those people to confirm that they were infected, but that’s the likely scenario. We don’t have definitive information, as I said, to do my previous answer to Tim, that we would actually go to police with something so nobody’s been fined. The focus our investigation ultimately is not to try to find somebody to penalize them. We will pass information along if we get it. But our focus is to really find out how a virus got here and how it’s been spread. And now we have to know we have to focus on trying to control that spread.

I mean, first of all, we have never used the word family. There was a gathering that people from out of the province were at. We’ve tried a number of our cases back, but some of them, the links are somewhat tenuous. They’re not fully, you know, fully formed. And so we don’t have a firm number in terms of it, but we do know that that in a number of our cases that we can link them back in all likelihood to this this unfortunate gathering. To me, it doesn’t matter how many exactly. We know that that has been a significant driver of a lot of our activity, but not the only driver. There’s other sources as well. The reality is, as we’re here, we have community spread and we now have to deal with that and get it back under control.

I don’t envy Public Health’s position. Their goal is, well, public health. It’s in their interest (and ours) to get contact tracing done properly in order to intervene in the chain of transmissions and stop further spread. Criminalizing people might be counter to that aim, as fear of fines or public opprobrium may lead people to not being forthcoming with contact tracers and therefore not providing enough information to stop the spread of the virus.

That seems to have happened in November, when a young person was not initially truthful with contact tracers about going to downtown Halifax bars, and as a result precious time was lost and the outbreak may have gotten larger than it would otherwise have. There may have been more at issue than simply fear of fines, but the same principle is at work: we want people to be truthful, and so shouldn’t penalize them for doing so.

Still, context matters. Last year in Halifax, people were being fined for walking across the Common instead of using the narrow sidewalks around the perimeter. Sitting alone on a park bench was an indictable offence, with threat of jail time. A few months ago, a group of college kids were fined $1,000 each for a house party on Edward Street, even though that party resulted in no transmission of the virus. And now the entire city is locked down in large part because of some unspecified social event, and no one at all is facing any consequences? What gives?

Part of the problem is Strang sometimes doesn’t appreciate the effect of his off-the-cuff remarks. He’s the one who told us about the social gathering, but he withholds further information. So we’re all guessing; I’ve heard rumours that it was a family reunion, a neighbourhood barbecue, a dance… Strang at one point mentioned the current outbreak comes two weeks after Easter; was the gathering a church service? Who knows? Well, Strang knows, but he’s not telling us.

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3. Nursing homes

Glasgow Hall. Photo: Shannex

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

What about nursing homes? All nursing homes in HRM are now closed to visitors. Residents at Glasgow Hall and Oceanview Continuing Care Centre are confined to their rooms. Two staff at Glasgow Hall and one staff at Oceanview have tested positive for COVID. 

In the Legislature last week, Minister of Health Zach Churchill said nearly all residents of nursing homes had been vaccinated and most had received their second doses of vaccine. This is good news, and frail seniors were given priority in a province bringing up the rear in terms of the percentage of the population which has been vaccinated with at least one dose: currently 25.5%. 

Meanwhile, no one has any clear idea what percentage of staff at long-term care homes have received even one dose of vaccine. Most large nursing homes held on-site vaccination clinics where all staff — part time and full time — were invited to participate. The reality is that in most nursing homes, a large number of continuing care assistants (CCAs) who do the bulk of the personal care of residents are hired as part-time or casual. They often work at more than one facility to accumulate enough hours to pay the bills. Many are new to Canada. 

“A majority of staff” received at least one vaccination at Glasgow Hall, said Katherine VanBuskirk, senior Communications manager for Shannex Inc. The Department of Health used similar words when asked to describe what percentage of staff in licensed long-term care homes have been vaccinated:

A minimum of 60% of staff in the long-term care sector have chosen to be vaccinated and have received at least their first dose. Some facilities are as high as 95%. We continue to work with long-term care facilities to ensure employees are making an informed choice about their vaccination.

While we fund long term care homes for full time employment, individual homes may staff using a combination of full time, part time, and casual employees in order to meet their own specific organizational needs and to incorporate employee preference.

The Examiner also contacted Michele Lowe, executive director of the Nursing Homes Association of Nova Scotia which includes 83 homes, both privately owned and non-profit. “All staff are eligible to receive the vaccine and many have attended the health care clinics onsite or in their own community health clinics,” said Lowe. “Some of our nursing homes had incredible uptake, with staff vaccines as high as 85% at some locations. 

“Unfortunately, for facilities that didn’t coordinate their staff appointments, the compliance data is collected by CanImmunize and they are the holders of the data. We do not have a full picture of how many staff have been immunized in LTC. With nursing students and new staff coming on this Spring, we will require access to vaccines.” 

Journalists and the public will also require more access to information if Public Health wants these restrictions to work.

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4. Police budget

A stenciled “defund the police” seen painted on a Halifax sidewalk on April 13, 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford

“Halifax councillors wrapped up their budget process on Thursday, adding even more money to the police budget,” reports Zane Woodford:

As we reported on Wednesday, councillors added $85,000 to the police budget to study body-worn cameras, along with 11 other items, totalling $5.9 million.

On Thursday, they added even more to the Halifax Regional Police budget: Coun. Sam Austin moved to include $60,000 for a training course called Journey to Change and $85,800 for court dispositions clerk. The training money passed unanimously, and the money for the clerk passed with Deputy Mayor Tim Outhit, and councillors Trish Purdy, Patty Cuttell, Pam Lovelace, Paul Russell, and Cathy Deagle-Gammon voting no.

In total, councillors added $230,800 to the police budget this week. That budget now totals $88,810,800 — an increase of 2.9% over HRP’s 2020-2021 COVID-19 budget (it was $88.9 million in 2019-2020).

Click here to read “Halifax budget talks close: even more cash for cops, less blue bag pickup, average tax bill up 1%.”

I completely predicted that calls for “defunding the police” would result in increasing funding for police, and here we are.

As I wrote last June:

I can see how this might play out: putting cameras on cops will actually lead to an increase in the police budget. First for the purchase of the cameras, then for the costs of maintaining them, then for ongoing training of officers (via a contract to some connected insider), all in the name of “improving trust” or some such bullshit.

Along the way, there will be cultural sensitivity training for cops and the like, ballooning the police budget even more.

There’s not an easy fix to police violence. More training or some quick tech gimmick won’t address the issue.

People want to argue about the effectiveness of body cameras, but I’ll sidestep that debate and just say this: if body cameras are necessary to curb police violence, then it’s because police department can’t properly control its officers. If more control measures are necessary, the funding for those measures should come out of the existing police budget, and not from increasing the budget.

If we lived in a world where bad behaviour actually had consequences, this might play out differently. Imagine if every time a cop improperly stopped a black person, the department budget was dinged a million dollars; if every time someone died in police custody, the budget was cut by 25%, and so on. You could bet that then the police brass would figure out how to control their officers.

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5. Crane

The top portion of the tower of the crane on top of the Olympus Building in October 2019. — Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

“The crane that toppled over a Halifax building in the winds of post-tropical storm Dorian, damaging multiple buildings, evacuating residents and closing a busy street for two months, collapsed due to a ‘weld failure,’ according to the provincial government’s investigation,” reports Zane Woodford:

The Department of Labour and Advanced Education released the report into its investigation on Thursday afternoon as a highly-anticipated news conference detailing new restrictions due to COVID-19 was starting.

Click here to read “Halifax crane collapsed due to ‘weld failure,’ labour department investigation concludes.”

Kinda weird they released that just as everyone’s attention was focused on the pandemic.

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In the harbour

Halifax
05:00: YM Mandate, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
16:00: ZIM Yokohama, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
16:30: Ilios, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
18:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s

Cape Breton
07:00: NS Laguna, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from New York
11:00: Algoma Valour, bulker, sails from Coal Pier (Sydney) for sea
14:00: Moscow Spirit, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper anchorage from Odudu Terminal, Nigeria
16:00: Gotland Marieann, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from New York


Footnotes

I’ll try to catch up, but I’m behind on everything.

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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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9 Comments

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  1. Surely the biggest obstacle to using per centage reductions in the police budget as a punishment for police failure to enforce good behavior on its members is existing collective agreements with police unions. Salaries arising from collective agreements are a huge part of the police budget, as with most public services. Would unionized police members have to be be laid off to meet budget reductions? Or could the entire police unionized salary structure be rolled back unilaterally? How would the labour movement as a whole respond? Would it be torn betweens abhorance of police overreaction and violence; or feel obliged to stand up for the invioability of collective agreements for all union members, wherever they are employed?

  2. I am willing to do my part to get the numbers back down, but I don’t support having a goal of zero cases. Although admirable, I think it is an unrealistic goal that will just see us continue to ride this roller coaster. If the current situation is the result of some individuals from out of province breaking our rules, then those individuals and anyone here in NS also involved should be fined to the fullest extent possible. Our original goal way back when this first started was to flatten the curve, which we have done more than once; this should be our goal going forward. SMART goal setting theory holds that goals should be attainable and realistic. I contend that a zero goal is unrealistic and will just lead to more and more frustration, which could see more people stop following the rules.

    1. Feels to me like we aim for 0 but get a few dozen or we aim for a few dozen and get thousands.

  3. What would the official reaction be if the outbreak was connected to a gathering in East Preston?

  4. Nobody wants the kind of overzealous enforcement measures that we saw last year, but surely there has to be at least a threat of consequences for incidents like the one which apparently contributed to the current flare up. Without some deterrent, what is to to keep it from happening again and again?

  5. “While we fund long term care homes for full time employment, individual homes may staff using a combination of full time, part time, and casual employees in order to meet their own specific organizational needs and to incorporate employee preference.”

    LTC homes are not banquet halls, serving 200 dinners one night, and 20 the next. Not sure why these organizations need part time and casual employees unless it’s a way to pay people less. As for employee preference, the number of people juggling part time jobs puts a lie to that. It’s disappointing but not surprising that the Department of Health takes the employer perspective.

    1. I have a family member in the industry who goes through a lot of gymnastics to avoid mandated overtime (because of childcare needs).