1. Omicron is here — and some restrictions are coming back
At least 40 Nova Scotians with COVID-19 have tested positive for the Omicron variant, and the StFX super-spreader event has led to positive cases at a seniors’ residence and at Dalhousie University. Yesterday, 114 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Nova Scotia.
The very good news is that despite the large number of new cases, there has not been a corresponding increase in hospitalizations. In fact, the number of people in hospital with the disease has decreased — to six, two of whom are in ICU (down from eight and three, respectively, on Friday).
At the COVID briefing today, I had this exchange with Strang:
Bousquet: Dr. Strang, your attitude and your demeanour this time around compared to previous outbreaks, it strikes me that you’re less worried, that you see this as kind of an evolution of the pandemic that’s going on in a more positive direction. Is that a fair assessment?
Strang: Well, I’ll qualify that a bit. I think it is the evolution of the pandemic and essentially we can be perhaps not as acutely worried because of vaccines. Vaccines is what allows us to be in this position, so anybody who doubts the importance of vaccines better give their head a good shake. But I’m not not worried as well; this always concerns me, these types of events, because if we don’t manage them well, if Nova Scotians don’t step up to the plate — and I have no reason to believe they won’t — but there’s always the risk that we’ve gone for so long, people are tired, people are fatigued and they just want to just get on with life, and that we just ignore the need to pay attention to COVID protocols. That would be a mistake. So I am worried — well, not worried, but I’m concerned — that if we don’t respond yet again, this has the potential to have significant negative impacts. But at the same time, I’m confident that yet again, we will respond and do what’s necessary to keep things to control to the level that vaccines will protect us and minimize severe illness, minimize any risk on the health care system.
Bousquet also details the new restrictions that come into effect Friday, and notes that Strang says these restrictions are for the short term, but “don’t ask me to define short term.”
2. Shocker: Cops want more cash
“We are in a crisis.”
“We are in dire straits.”
Which, poor, underfunded agency could this be? Since you presumably read the headline and saw the photo of Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella at the top of this story, you’ve likely figured out that the answer is not, oh, I don’t know, parks and recreation.
“This budget is about ensuring public safety for visitors and residents into the future,” Kinsella told the board.
“We are in a crisis,” Kinsella said. “We are in dire straits.”
Kinsella cited, among other factors, Halifax’s growing population, a “dramatic spike in activism,” and increased officer absences due to mental illness for the budget increase.
The money would go to hiring more officers and civilian employees.
Now, here’s a great bit from the story:
Coun. Becky Kent said she supported an increased budget for police. Even after potential defunding, Kent said Halifax will still need a “healthy police department.”
“Even after potential defunding.” Potential is, as they say, doing a lot of work here.
The Board of Police Commissioners has appointed El Jones to chair the Committee to Define Defunding the Police, but the committee has yet to make any recommendations. So, essentially this would represent giving the police more money — after having increased the HRP budget last year — as a hedge against the possibility of cutting their budget in future, if any of the proposals in the as-yet-to-be-released defunding report are accepted.
Kind of like when Superstore takes an item that costs $4.99, raises the price to $6.99, then puts it on sale for $5.99.
Footnote: Looking at that water bottle in front of Kinsella reminds me that the city phased out bottled water in most city facilities and administrative offices more than a decade ago.
3. Policing review goes to tender, and outgoing local RCMP head complains about police being victims of “cancel culture”
Zane Woodford is back after a six-week stint teaching at King’s, and he’s not exactly one to slowly ease back in. In the second of his four — yes, that’s right — new pieces, Woodford reports that the municipality has issued a tender for a report on whether Halifax should maintain its hybrid policing model, with Halifax Regional Police covering part of the municipality and the RCMP the rest.
Coun. Tony Mancini brought the motion to council, seeking a “review of the current model of delivering policing services in Halifax Regional Municipality, to provide an evaluation of and make recommendations with respect to the effectiveness along with community safety standards of the current division of policing responsibilities in HRM between the Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP in their capacity as Nova Scotia Provincial Police.”
As the Halifax Examiner reported at the time, Mancini said it wasn’t an “anti-RCMP thing” and he wasn’t presupposing the outcome, but he felt it was time to reconsider the 25-year-old arrangement.
Woodford’s story provides details on what’s in the request for proposals, and what the review might cost. He ends the story with a heart-rending story of officers done wrong:
During a Board of Police Commissioners meeting on Monday, outgoing Halifax-district RCMP Chief Supt. Janis Gray teared up as she decried “cancel culture” and what she sees as “unwarranted and unfair criticism” of police.
On Twitter, Woodford was asked by a reader if the the Gray quote was “for real,” so he replied with the whole thing:
“The current environment of cancel culture and what appears to be a campaign of deliberate and unwarranted undermining of public confidence in policing is, in my view, directly affecting the morale of our police officers, and even runs the risk of affecting public safety.”
This made me think of Georgia deputy Stacy Talbert getting all weepy last year, because she was forced to wait for the Egg McMuffin she ordered, and concluded it was because she was a police officer:
It doesn’t matter how many hours I’ve been up, it doesn’t matter what I’ve done for anyone. Right now I’m too nervous to take a meal from McDonald’s because I can’t see it being made. I don’t know what’s going on with people nowadays, but please, just give us a break. Just give us a break… I’ve been in this for 15 years, and I’ve never had such anxiety about getting McDonald’s drive-thru food. So just have a heart and if you see an officer just [inaudible], because I don’t hear ‘thank you’ enough anymore.
4. Almost all municipal employees have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine
Very few city employees do not have two doses of COVID-19 vaccines, the city says:
“As of Friday, December 10, 97 per cent of municipal staff have presented proof of full vaccination, of which 99.5 per cent of Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency (HRFE) and 97.3 per cent of Halifax Regional Police (HRP) have presented proof of full vaccination,” municipal spokesperson Laura Wright said in an email on Monday.
“This means that fewer than 145 municipal-wide employees have not yet provided their proof of vaccination, of which fewer than 15 work for HRFE and fewer than 23 work for HRP.”
Spokesperson Kasia Morrison says Halifax Public Libraries employees have a 98.6% vaccination rate.
5. Omicron and the holidays: don’t panic
Yesterday, I read a story published by SaltWire (no, I’m not going to link to it) that offered advice for a COVID-safe holiday get-together. Oh, I thought, it’s going to be about thinking carefully about who comes, maybe doing rapid tests beforehand, having the place well-ventilated, and so on. But no.
The tips focused more on things like spacing out food on platters and using skewers to minimize touch, and having people bring their own bags of chips. The piece also referred to a backyard movie night where everyone brought their own chairs.
We are two years into this thing, we know the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads through the air, and we are still talking about making sure someone else doesn’t touch a cookie before you eat it.
I will admit that I was extremely freaked out about COVID for much of last year, and that extended to things like doing individual charcuterie plates instead of boards at our family Christmas Eve get-together. (I also opened some windows, to the detriment of the house plants on the window sills.)
But we are a year later. We know a lot more. Hopefully those among you who, like me, have suffered from anxiety, have also been able to get it somewhat under control. If you want to put food on skewers and that makes you feel better, by all means, please do so. But let’s not pretend this is a key COVID prevention strategy.
All this brings me to Yvette d’Entremont’s latest, in which she speaks to Halifax-based epidemiologist Kevin Wilson, who offers some solid advice on gatherings, and answers questions about what kind of mask to wear:
“If you have 20 people in a room together that are not normally with each other with the windows closed and no masks on and you’re all having a great holiday dinner, the problem is not that the food is arranged in a buffet,” Wilson said in an interview late Monday afternoon.
“If there’s a lot of spread at that event, that wasn’t the thing that caused the spread. It was really the ventilation and the sharing of air, basically.”
I switched from cloth masks to surgical masks earlier this year, and when Delta came along and I read about how much less effective cloth and surgical masks were against it, I went to a KN95. d’Entremont offers a really thorough and clear section on different kinds of masks, and asks Wilson about what to wear:
So what kind of mask does an epidemiologist living in Halifax wear when out in public?
“We already have a mask mandate, and if you’re going to do it, why not just use the most effective mask? I have a bunch of KN95s lying around and that’s the de facto one that I use,” Wilson said.
“I would tend to lean more in the direction of ‘Well, why not just use the masks that work better?’”
Wilson said surgical masks or cloth masks would work well if COVID-19 were a purely droplet borne virus because the goal of those is to ensure cough, spit, and “general debris” coming out of your mouth and/or nose doesn’t get through the mask.
6. Corey Rogers’ mother upset after Police Review Board clears the officer who arrested her son
“The mother of a man who died in police custody feels the officer who arrested her son got off too easy in a recent decision,” Zane Woodford reports.
Corey Rogers, 41, choked to death after vomiting into a spit hood in cells at Halifax Regional Police headquarters in June 2016. He was arrested for public intoxication outside a children’s hospital following the birth of his daughter. Rogers’ mother, Jeannette Rogers, filed a complaint against the three officers who arrested and booked her son — constables Ryan Morris, Justin Murphy, and Donna Lee Paris.
The Nova Scotia Police Review Board cleared Morris, the arresting officer, of wrongdoing, saying his conduct was “unprofessional” but that it did not rise “to the level of a disciplinary default.”
The board’s decision was released on November 29. Woodford writes:
Elsewhere, the board excused Morris’s behaviour because he was “a fairly new officer and had little experience working in the downtown core of Halifax and dealing with intoxicated individuals.”
Jeannette Rogers disagreed with that assessment.
“He might have been new this time, but he had been on the force before and was suspended for a DUI,” Rogers said on Monday.
Morris was charged with impaired driving in 2014 after he crashed his car and fled the scene on foot. He had been on the force for about a year at the time. Morris pleaded guilty. He was suspended and then fired from Halifax Regional Police, and then reinstated in 2015 by an order of the Police Review Board. At the time of Rogers’ death, he’d been back on the job for seven months.
1. Journalism for what matters: Kendall Worth launches new blog
Kendall Worth launched a new blog late last month. It’s called Journalism For What Matters, and continues the work he was doing as a regular contributor to The Nova Scotia Advocate, which ceased publication with the death of its founder, Robert Devet.
In his introductory post, Worth explains the purpose of the blog:
My Journalism has been a benefit to the Community because I provide a voice for others on social assistance. My voice reflects those that have no voice to reflect their situation and experience. Here in Halifax N.S. where I live, there is a large community of people living in poverty. Many of these people depend on the assistance and services of the Employment Support and Income Assistance program (ESIA) through the Department of Community Service. They need the support of social assistance to help them live.
However the System comes with a lot of problems.
Worth goes on to outline some of those problems and his writing on them.
The two most recent posts on the blog are both on what is known as “inappropriate body language,” and are really interesting. The first details the experiences four people who receive income assistance shared with Worth, while the second is a plea to not call 911 on people whose public behaviour may seem erratic or make you feel uncomfortable.
Inappropriate body language, Worth explains, describes a range of behaviours others may find troubling. They include:
- Fidgeting in Public
- Talking to themselves, in some cases out loud
- Big hand movements that make a person look like they are trying to start a fight with someone.
- Making no eye contact when spoken to
- Bad and unacceptable types of handshakes
This is a partial list. Worth lists many more behaviours that can fall into this category.
In the first of these two blog posts, Worth writes:
Anyway. . . all 4 of the Income assistance recipients who came forward to me about their stories on this issue, contacted me again recently.
In late July, and after a few months had gone by following their first bad experience with mall security, they went to the mall again. This time the Security Supervisor gave them notices telling them they are banned from the Mall for one year. The reason they were told – Security said they could no longer deal with getting complaints from members of the public. The complaints were that their behaviour – fidgeting, staring at people, and behaving as if drunk (even though they were not drinking) – was making the public “feel uncomfortable”…
These welfare recipients are trying to get mental health treatment for these behaviours. When I met with them to interview for this update, they told me that they live their day to day lives these days full of anxiety, occasionally leaving their apartment when the need arises.
In the second post in the series, published Monday, he looks at the question of why these behaviours upset people so much that they want to call the police, and at what the alternatives are:
I often know, at least possible reasons for this behaviour – fidgeting, talking to himself, and waving his hands. I knew that that a visit to the QE2 Emergency Room, escorted by police, would not solve the problem, and would likely make things worse. There was a gas station nearby and I went inside and told the staff at that gas station that there was someone outside their business who was behaving in a way that might be a problem for themselves or others. The people inside the gas station already knew what he was doing. They agreed with me that they did not want to see him get arrested either. It solves nothing.
After Robert Devet died, his son, Simon, announced that the Nova Scotia Advocate would not continue to publish. It was Robert’s project, and it died with him. But he did write on Facebook that he hoped others would take up the torch, and that Robert had shown “all you have to do is show up and write.”
I am glad to see Kendall Worth continuing to share his insights with us on a new platform.
2. Living on the streets can kill
On Saturday, the Chronicle Herald published a story by Andrew Rankin on unhoused people sleeping outdoors after last week’s heavy snowfall, and the city’s failures to provide housing after the encampment evictions of last summer.
Rankin leads with the story of a woman he calls Lisa, who is 63 and has been living at what’s come to be known as People’s Park in Halifax’s West End:
She has diabetes, bowel complications and copes with chronic depression. She’s been living at the park since early last month just after her mom died and she lost her apartment.
She arrived there after showing up at the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre on Gottingen Street looking for shelter but none was available. She was told there was nowhere for her to go and she was sent to Meagher Park with a tent and sleeping bag.
(Yesterday, the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre announced it would be closing, leaving the 40 people who have been staying there without beds.)
Rankin speaks with cardiac surgeon Greg Hirsch, who fears that Lisa’s life is in danger:
“She’s in grave jeopardy. That degree of exposure — she could have compromised circulation to her extremities,” he said.
He also interviews Campbell McClintock of Halifax Mutual Aid, who worries governments will only start to take housing seriously if someone dies on the streets. I have to say I’m a lot less optimistic about this than McClintock is. After all, in 1998, the City of Toronto declared homelessness “a national disaster.” Now, the city has a “Deaths of People Experiencing Homelessness” dashboard. In 2019, 128 deaths were recorded. The number rose to 143 in 2020, and stands at 94 so far for 2021. The “other” category for cause of death includes “complications from diabetes, hypothermia, influenza, liver disease, organ failure, pulmonary disease, and respiratory disease.”
Consistently, the largest age cohort for those who die while unhoused is 40-59.
It is so easy for people sitting comfortably at home to rationalize people living on the streets. You’ve heard all the excuses: They don’t actually want housing. They have unmet mental health needs but won’t get treatment. They can’t hold down a job. They just use their money on drugs. It’s complicated. It’s just the way it is, what can you do?
Lisa lost her apartment after her mother died. Now, her life may be in danger. There is no way to make that any less stark than it is.
I was struck last week by a piece by Will James, of public radio station KNXK in Washington State. In an extraordinary and tenacious piece of journalism, James followed up to find out what happened to the residents of a Tacoma building called the Merkle, after they were renovicted.
There’s a spoiler in the headline: “A developer forced them out of their building. Three years later, nearly half are dead.”
The story opens with 63-year-old Kathy Dour:
Hours before Kathy Dour had to leave her apartment at the Merkle Hotel, she still didn’t know what would happen to her once she stepped out the building’s door and onto Tacoma’s Pacific Avenue.
She was one of a handful of tenants left in the building on Oct. 31, 2018 — the deadline residents had to move out so a developer could renovate the building for new tenants who could pay more.
Dour was nervous because she needed to provide an address to the van service that drove her to dialysis treatments three times a week. She hoped workers from a nonprofit could pull off a miracle and find her a new home at the last minute.
Note the banal logistical hurdle here. Dour needs dialysis to stay alive, but she can’t get driven to her appointment unless she provides an address.
James describes the Merkle Hotel as being rundown and seen by some as an embarrassing sign of urban decay. But it was also a place where people on social assistance could afford to live. A rooming house of last resort — the kind mostly zoned out of existence in many cities.
But the building was sold, the new owner wanted to make more money than a bunch of people on income assistance could bring in, and several of the tenants would die as a result. That’s just how the system works.
KNKX first interviewed the tenants , many of whom had disabilities, in 2018, as they were frantically trying to find somewhere to stay. Three years later, they’ve stuck with the story:
KNKX tracked down 12 former tenants of the Merkle displaced in 2018 and found that half — six in total — spent time homeless at some point after they were forced out of the building, staying in shelters, cars, storage units or the streets. That’s according to interviews with the tenants themselves, their relatives, or people who helped them.
In just three years, at least five former tenants have died.
Kathy Dour is one of those who did not survive:
Kathy Dour told her brother that, while homeless, she took a cab to some of her dialysis appointments, but missed others. Mark Dour said he believes those missed appointments contributed to what happened next.
Shortly after Kathy Dour started living on the streets, her brother said, she collapsed at a bank. She was hospitalized with advanced kidney failure, advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart problems, Mark Dour said.
Kathy Dour’s health declined until she was so frail that moving her from the hospital was a risk, Mark Dour said. Staff eventually managed to transfer her to an assisted-living facility in Seattle, where she was on dialysis five days a week.
She died eight months after being forced out of her home.
Last week, I went to hear Kim Thuy speak at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. She was there as part of a series called “The Storytellers,” discussing her new novel Em, talking about her experiences as one of the Vietnamese “boat people” and sharing some of the stories she learned while researching and writing the book. (I will disclose here that I produce a French-language podcast for the museum called D’innombrables voyages, hosted by Thuy; we had never met in person before last week.)
At one point during her talk, Thuy said something about her nails, and then shared the story of how Tippi Hedren played a critical role in the establishment of Vietnamese-owned nail salons in North America.
Hedren, you may recall, starred in The Birds, and Marnie, and many, many, many other films and TV shows. In the early 1970s, she visited a refugee camp in northern California, Thuy said, where some of the women admired her nails. Hedren had been thinking about what she could offer the women to help them get established in the United States, and she realized she could ask her manicurist to teach a group of them how to do nails.
At the time, manicures were expensive. Nail salons were not a common sight. If you could do nails, you could make good money.
But, Thuy noted, the women didn’t have the connections to get access to high-paying clients. Instead, some rented space in salons owned by Black women and started offering affordable nail services there. Others opened their own shops, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The story has been well covered, but nobody I spoke to knew it. Perhaps if you are someone who frequents nail salons — say, a knuckleball pitcher — none of this is news to you though.
One thing that impressed me is that Hedren didn’t just offer up help and then move on. She stayed connected with the women.
A 2017 story in Town & Country magazine quotes a member of the original group of women, Thuan Le, on the moment the idea occurred to Hedren:
One woman, Thuan Le, recalls being present for Hedren’s “A-ha” moment. “A group of us were standing close to her and saw that her nails were so beautiful,” she told TakePart. “We talked to each other and said they looked so pretty. I looked in [Hedren’s] eyes and knew she was thinking something. She said, ‘Ah, maybe you can learn nails.’ And we looked at each other and she said, ‘Yes, manicures!’”
Hedren flew in her personal manicurist and brought in additional support from a local beauty school to teach 20 women how to paint nails and perform silk nail wrapping. After the group received sufficient training and licensing, Hedren then helped the students to find jobs in salons across Southern California.
The ripple effect of this mini-jobs program continues to impact the industry. In 2015, 51 percent of nail technicians in the United States (and approximately 80 percent in California) were of Vietnamese descent, a ripple effect that got its start with the original 20 women Hedren helped.
Not all of the women remained in the nail salon business, but many did. Thuan Le is still working at a salon in Santa Monica, California. Yan Rist, who worked in military intelligence in Vietnam as a translator and then later as a secretary for State Department officials, stayed in the nail business then moved into tattoos once she settled in Palm Springs.
“Tippi got me a job in Beverly Hills so I could make a lot of money,” Yan Rist said. “I worked on Rodeo Drive – but I am a refugee and I didn’t dress well at the time. All the rich women coming in – they didn’t want to try the newcomer. Every day I went to work it cost me $8 for the parking. Eight dollars for parking! In 1976!”
She says Hedren helped her get a different job closer to home when she quit her job in Beverly Hills.
These ripple-effect stories fascinate me.
Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am) — livestreamed
Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee (Wednesday, 1pm, City Hall) — also livestreamed
Halifax and West Community Council (Wednesday, 6pm, City Hall) — also livestreamed
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
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Report of the Auditor General — 2021 Financial Report
In the harbour
09:00: CMA CGM Panama, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for sea
11:00: MSC Sandra, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Montreal
15:30: MSC Angela, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
18:00: MSC Sandra sails for sea
No arrivals or departures.
Recently remembered this song, which seems right for the times.