News

1. COVID-19

The daily new case numbers and rolling 7-day average since March 28, the last day there were zero new cases.

The COVID situation isn’t good. We have record numbers of new cases day after day, and it seems that every day we’re told the testing and data entry backlog is cleared, only to be told the next day that it isn’t.

I hope to get some clarification on that point today, at the COVID briefing scheduled for 1pm. Either we’re past the expected surge of the pre-lockdown outbreak and lower daily case numbers simply haven’t been entered into the system, or we’re in a full-blown continually growing outbreak that the lockdown hasn’t much abated. That’s a difference worth understanding.

At the heart of that understanding is a question of positivity rates. I don’t think looking at positivity rates over the long course of the pandemic tells us much — the pool of those getting tested a year ago (only a couple of hundred of symptomatic people a day) and the pool of those getting tested today (tens of thousands of people a day, the huge majority of whom are asymptomatic) are so vastly different that there’s nothing meaningful to learn from the comparison.

But zeroing in on positivity rates over the past two weeks raises important questions.

Here are the positivity rates since April 24. The “same-day positivity rate” is found by simply dividing the number of positive cases reported on each day by the number of tests reported on the same day. The “2-day lag positivity rate” is found by dividing the number of positive cases reported on each day by the number of tests reported two days previously:

As you can see, the reporting problems arose on April 28, 29, and 30. Before those dates, the same-day positivity rate and the 2-day positivity rate were in about the same ballpark, hovering at 1% or just below.

After those dates, however, the same-day positivity rate has increased alarmingly, to 1.5% Wednesday and then 2.4% yesterday. If that reflects an actual-world increase in positivity rates, then we should be scared silly: the restrictions aren’t working and the virus is two- to three-times as contagious as it was just a week ago.

I think — I hope — that that’s not the case, however. If we look at the 2-day lag positivity rate, we see that the rate has remained at around or just below 1% since the reporting problems arose.

I’m assuming a two-day lag reflects not the lag between someone getting swabbed and that swab being tested, but rather a two-day lag between a positive test result being discovered at the lab (no matter how long it took the swab to be tested) and that positive test result being entered into the computer system. So, each day, we’re being told the number of tests completed that day, but only the positive results from tests completed two days previously.

Likely, some reporting will be done more quickly than two days, while other reporting is taking longer than two days. So this is just a quick-and-dirty back-of-the-envelope analysis.

Still, assuming a two-day lag and 1% positivity rate or less, today’s daily new case number would be somewhere below 115 and tomorrow’s would be below 77.

I don’t know if this analysis will hold, but if it does, it means the current outbreak has peaked and we’re on our way towards lowering the daily new case numbers.

Obviously, even 77 cases is far too many. Seventy-five freaked us out last week, as it should have. And, likely, the steep rise in cases the last few days is a partial reflection of catching up with previous days’ cases, so had there been no problem with the data reporting, the curve would’ve looked somewhat higher last week and a little lower the last few days. That means this outbreak is stubborn, and likely won’t go away quickly.

The following comes from Jennifer Henderson.

“I don’t know what else I can say to Nova Scotians so they will take this issue seriously,” said Premier Iain Rankin yesterday. “We have put restrictions in place; there is to be no non-essential travel between counties. I know Mother’s Day is this Sunday and that will be difficult. But please, people, stay home and use your phone or your computer to show your appreciation.”

Rankin bristled at the suggestion the province had been complacent by relaxing restrictions early in April around the size of gatherings and allowing some socializing in restaurants and sports venues while variant strains of the virus were raging in other provinces. “No,” he said firmly. “The cases increased because people were not following the 14-day quarantine rule when they came into Atlantic Canada. We acted quickly to bring in tight restrictions.” 

Rankin said until this third wave is brought under control, he can’t begin to think about what circumstances might allow fully vaccinated Americans or Europeans who own property in Nova Scotia to visit here this summer. Clearly, he’s worried about the growing volume of positive cases we continue to log on a daily basis, with 40 people now in hospital and many elective surgeries cancelled in case additional beds are required.

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2. Child care

The Kids & Company child care centre in Bedford is closed due to multiple cases of COVID. Photo: Google Street View

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

Ten child care centres in HRM were closed on Thursday, according to information provided by the Department of Education and Early Childhood. 

The Bedford Dellridge Lane location of Kids & Company has been closed for nearly two weeks because of an outbreak which involves multiple cases. The Purple Door Child Care Centre in Dartmouth is also closed because teachers tested positive. Willowbrae in Burnside and Connexions in Dartmouth have temporary closures. 

Health Minister Zach Churchill was asked to confirm information parents and early childhood educators provided to the Halifax Examiner. They say the operators of licensed child care centres are under a gag order not to share the number of cases that emerge at day cares. Churchill did not answer directly but explained that all information about COVID cases and day care closures must come from Public Health and only Public Health. 

“It’s critical that information on COVID cases is coming from Public Health,” said Churchill. “They are the ones responsible for protecting people’s privacy and ensuring the appropriate people are made aware, if they are close contacts. They have to find that balance of achieving awareness and protecting people’s privacy and when the risk is deemed necessary, the public is informed. We trust them to oversee that process and I believe they have been doing a very good job.”

Derek Mombourquette, the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, said he was unaware of any instruction or gag order being issued to daycare centres. He said there have been 16 cases of COVID at child care centres in the Halifax Regional Municipality; none in other areas. 

Once a case is identified, the day care closes for a minimum of three days for deep cleaning. Others close for longer periods if staff are ill, self-isolating, or more cases emerge.

Mombourquette thanked early childhood educators for their dedication to the job and said most child care centres are now operating at below 50% capacity, with full masking, which should reduce the risk of transmission. 

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3. Jails

The renovated North Unit day room at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“There are two cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Nova Scotia jails and prisoners in Burnside are on lockdown as the province’s ‘clunky’ justice systems slows efforts to release prisoners en masse during the third wave,” reports Zane Woodford:

As the Halifax Examiner reported earlier on Thursday:

… an employee at the Burnside Jail has tested positive for COVID, and as a result all prisoners are under lockdown. Prisoners are being tested today, and they’ll remain in lockdown until a negative test result comes back.

Nova Scotia Justice Department spokesperson Heather Fairbairn confirmed in an email to the Examiner on Thursday evening that there are in fact two active cases, but didn’t say in which facility or facilities:

There are currently two confirmed cases of COVID-19 associated with Nova Scotia’s provincial correctional facilities. Public health is engaged and the appropriate measures are being undertaken.

Despite months of calls from activists to prioritize prisoners and staff for vaccination, the province only started vaccinating prisoners this week — and only in one jail, Burnside.

Click here to read “Two COVID-19 cases confirmed in Nova Scotia jails as ‘clunky’ justice system inhibits mass release.”

As I read Woodford’s report, I was angered by two things.

First was that during the immediate crisis, which is orders of magnitude more urgent than the situation faced in the Spring of 2020, the justice system can’t respond as quickly or thoroughly.

The pre-pandemic population of the jails was 452; thanks to comprehension of the urgency, a judge (Pamela Williams) determined to act quickly, and the hard work of a handful of cash-strapped nonprofit agencies that support those involved in the criminal justice system, by mid-April 2020, the jail population was reduced to 251.

“In the months since, that number crept up,” reports Woodford:

Even before the third wave, now much worse than the first by any metric, a group of advocates was calling on the province to again depopulate jails.

The Examiner asked [Justice Department spokesperson Heather] Fairbairn for the current population numbers, whether the Justice Department has a target number of prisoners to be released now, where that would put the population number, and whether there’s a timeline for releases.

Fairbairn’s statement answered none of those questions.

This morning, Fairbairn emailed us with some numbers:

As the Minister indicated, we continue to manage admissions and releases as we have since March 2020 with eligible inmates considered for temporary absence / early release.

Since April:

  • 12 individuals have been approved for a Temporary Absence from their intermittent sentence
  • 4 individuals have been approved for a Temporary Absence in the last 30 days or less of their continuous custody sentence
  • 3 individuals have been approved for a Conditional Release from their continuous custody sentence

Matters related to remand and bail would involve decisions by the Courts.

That’s not exactlty what Woodford asked for, but advocate groups tell us the jail population is now 364. In essence, during a time when the risk of a jail outbreak of COVID is easily 10 times as great as it was last spring, the jail de-population effort this spring has been half as successful.

Who’s to blame? Not the judge, who appears to be acting with the same urgency as last year. And certainly not the non-profit agencies — the Elizabeth Fry Society, the Coverdale Courtwork Society, and the John Howard Society — who with few resources are moving mountains in order to find prisoners supportive housing as they’re released from jail.

The hard-working people at the non-profits won’t say as much because they don’t want to anger the system, but it appears the biggest impediment to depopulating the jails is the Crown lawyers, who just haven’t been taking this threat as seriously as they should.

That failure to act quickly is coupled with the failure of Public Health to provide vaccination opportunities at the jail sooner, and the failure of the jail to help a vaccination program along by assisting or at least allowing for a vaccination education effort by groups like Women’s Wellness Within.

Many incarcerated people come from marginalized communities and have good reason to be distrustful of public health measures and vaccines. My understanding is that the vaccines arrived too late at the jail, but even then uptake wasn’t as high as it could’ve been because not much effort was made to persuade prisoners to get vaccinated.

An outbreak among prisoners would be disastrous. Most of the people in jail are awaiting trial and so haven’t been convicted, or are sent to jail for violating the terms of their earlier conditional release. But whatever their real or alleged crimes, they weren’t sentenced to death, which is a not-negligible chance should they test positive. And these are people who leave the jail and return to families and communities that will be put at greater risk of infection due to a jail outbreak.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that, and that the current round of testing all comes up negative. But I fear the worst.

I was secondly angered while reading Woodford’s reporting when I contemplated the larger jail situation. Last year, the jail population was cut nearly in half, and what happened? If there was any corresponding increase in violence or crime out in the community, I’m sure the reliable tough-on-crime voices would’ve been crowing about it. But it’s been crickets; it appears that for the vast majority of incarcerated people, if they’re provided with supportive housing, they’ll abide by their conditions and won’t be a threat to the rest of the community.

Sure, there are likely counter-examples and fringe cases, but I can think of exactly one person in Nova Scotia’s jails who I don’t want out in the wider community, even with heavy surveillance and support. It’s absurd that we build entire institutions of imprisonment for hundreds of people for these rare cases. No doubt, we’re doing more harm than good.

Even without a pandemic, the better — and less expensive — approach would be to properly fund the non-profit agencies providing supportive housing and to expand on the programs that allow for better reintegration in society and prevent reoffence.

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4. Doulas

The Nova Scotia Doula Association says Nova Scotia Health’s decision to only allow one support person for those giving birth is unfair to families.
Photo: Ömürden Cengiz

“The organization representing the province’s doulas says Nova Scotia Health’s decision to only allow one support person for those giving birth is unfair to families,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

“The interesting thing is that the IWK is actually still allowing two support persons for birthing individuals, and most of the cases in the province are in the HRM area. But birth units in the rest of the province are limited to one support person,” Nova Scotia Doula Association (NSDA) chairperson Renée Curry said in an interview Thursday.

“What we are hoping is that the Nova Scotia Health Authority reconsiders their restrictions and allows at least two support people for birthing families in the rest of the province, as in, they follow suit with the IWK.”

In a May 4 statement, the NSDA urges Nova Scotia Health (NSH) to consider doulas “not as visitors, but as important members of the birth team,” noting that prior to the pandemic, doulas were considered an integral part of the care team for birthing families.

Click here to read “People about to give birth are ‘really freaking out’ because their doulas aren’t allowed in hospitals.”

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Government

No public meetings.


On campus

Dalhousie

W.O. McCormick Academic Day (Friday, 8am) — This year’s Zoom event is titled “Coaching and Behavior Change.” $25-100, agenda and registration here.


In the harbour

Halifax
01:00: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
06:00: ZIM Monaco, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
08:00: Algoma Vision, bulker, arrives at Gold Bond from Sydney
13:00: Augusta Luna, cargo ship, sails from Pier 31 for Bilboa, Spain
16:00: Ilios, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
16:30: ZIM Monaco sails for New York
16:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Fairview Cove for Saint-Pierre

Cape Breton
06:00: Niagara Spirit, barge, with Tim McKeil, tug, sails from Aulds Cove Quarry for sea
22:00: MIA Desgagnes, oil tanker, arrives at Government Wharf (Sydney) from Corner Brook, Newfoundland


Footnotes

Tim Bousquet receives his first dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine from registered nurse Natalie White at a clinic at Dalhousie University in Halifax on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford

Is there something akin to survivor’s guilt for people who have been vaccinated — vaccination guilt?

It’s now been more than three weeks since I received my first dose of AstraZeneca. I haven’t been out of the house much since then — I understand that vaccinated or not, I could be a vector for the virus, and I don’t want to endanger those around me who haven’t been vaccinated or to add to the general risk. I’ve followed all lockdown restrictions religiously, and will continue to do so.

Today, however, I must go out into the world. I’ve put off some of the mechanics of the business side of the Examiner for more than two weeks, and they need to be attended to. Who would’ve thought that going to the post office and the bank would be akin to an espionage mission, with danger at every turn?

It’s weird, though, understanding the risk I present to others while feeling reasonably assured that I personally won’t die as a result of depositing a couple of subscriber cheques. It doesn’t seem fair.

Tim Bousquet

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

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18 Comments

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  1. I do agree with those who think we are in this mess because Rankin relaxed the rules. He opened up when we should have stayed the course. And that combined with a very slow vaccine roll-out is why we are in the predicament we are in today. NS did not feel any pressure to get the population vaccinated when the evidence was clear that we were in a race against the variants.

    It was clear that when Rankin assumed the reins, he and Strang were not on the same page. Rankin was opening up and Strang was saying he was worried about community spread.

  2. I have a question about whether or not people can be carriers of the virus even after they’re vaccinated. That’s unknown to my understanding. To be clear – I’m not saying they can pass on the virus because they’re vaccinated. I’m questioning whether a vaccinated person could carry the virus into our province. At such a sensitive time it would be prudent to put in as many stops as possible. That unknown scares me when thinking about allowing people into our province. It’s a challenge enough to keep tabs on essential services – transportation of goods/services and rotational workers. And thank you for your thorough reporting!

    1. I think even if people have been fully inoculated, they could – possibly – still carry the virus. From my understanding, the current inoculations merely lessen the severity of the illness the person could experience should they contract the virus. If a person has only mild symptoms, they may not even be aware that they are sick and, therefore, could possibly spread the virus. I think this could be why we have seen such a huge spike in our NS numbers – people didn’t even know they had the virus and went about their daily lives.

      I don’t know what the answer might be – we don’t have DIY rapid tests that someone could take each day before heading out; even if we did, for many the cost of same would be prohibitive. Keeping our borders closed cannot be a long-term solution. NS, like other provinces, needs revenue from travelers – domestic and international – in order to maintain various services.

      I remain optimistic that our numbers will go down again, but I don’t expect it to happen overnight. I predict that certain parts of the Central Zone – where I reside – may not open up much of anything until after Canada Day. Nor do I expect the current inoculations to totally wipe out Covid. I believe it will become endemic and we will all eventually learn to live with it.

  3. I would like to know the frequency of testing recommended (asymptomatic of course). What would Dr Strang consider regular testing given our systems seem to be swamped?

    1. There’s no limit to asymptomatic testing at the pop-up testing centres (the antigen testing sites).The testing that is overwhelmed is the PRC testing.

      1. I went to the pop up rapid testing at St Andrews Centre. I was in at 6:05, out at 6:10 and had results texted at 6:32.

  4. The developments of the past couple of weeks lead me to wonder about the strict “age determined” vaccination policy in NS.

    Early on in the pandemic, persons who live in congregate settings were identified to be at high risk for COVID. Despite the fact that many people (staff and those serving intermittent sentences) are back and forth between the community and the prison, vaccination only started recently.

    Recently many schools, day care centres and Halifax transit buses have been identified as possible exposure sites. For some time, front line employees in these settings have expressed concern about the number of people they are exposed to on a daily basis and their risk of exposure to COVID. An asymptomatic employee in one of these front line jobs is also at risk for spreading the virus to many people. The response was that the age based vaccination policy was the best approach to vaccinating the population. Any variation would slow down the vaccination process.

    We have done many things right during pandemic response in Nova Scotia. However a vaccination policy that blended a broader definition of ‘front line workers’, and strategic workplace vaccination, with the ‘oldest citizens first’ approach may serve us better with the variant driven COVID 2021.

  5. I had to get tested because I traveled for work. My first test was Saturday and took ~72 hours to get the results emailed to me. My second test was yesterday and I had the results before I woke up this morning ~20 hours from the time I was swabbed to getting the email.

    I seems (albeit based on my own experience) that the testing backlog is resolved. I’m not sure if me getting my results quickly means that the data entry backlog is cleared?

    Hopefully you can get some answers this afternoon

  6. I’ll echo the kudos to you, Tim, for your Covid-19 coverage. I come here to get the best, most complete coverage.

    As to your feelings of guilt about going out, life does go on and that means that people do have to go out and about. Not everything can – or should – be done online. As long as you continue to follow the rules when you do go out, ditch the guilt because you are not doing anything wrong.

  7. Tim, good for you being in self imposed quarantine. It is much better than being quarantined by a government order (been there,done that more times than I care to remember). This is tough on children and they will never forget this scourge.

  8. Thanks Tim for your continued C-19 coverage – who knew you’d become an expert in such things?

    Regarding the premier and doctor’s finger-pointing to the out-of-province + friends partyers and the clue-less-to-the-seriousness-of-the-3rd-wave Nova Scotians in general, true, but, let’s not, in our haste to duck-and-dodge, let’s not forget the reckless lack of protection for schools and daycares – putting at risk, students, educators, staff, families And communities.

    1. I have to agree. While it is much easier to put the blame on “come from away”, we need to evaluate if our plan to protect ourselves and others is/was adequate. What is the reason for the continued spread? Are people not following the rules or is the mask/distancing not working for the new variants or maybe a combination? I think it was very obvious that the plan for schools and daycares was not going to prevent spread, but it wasn’t an issue when it was contained. Very encouraging to see that the older population, who are vaccinated, seem to be avoiding it compared to the other groups.
      I really hope this latest lockdown gets us past this quickly. We did it before and hopefully will do so again.

    2. I must disagree. Can you explain what you see as reckless protection for schools and daycare. Keeping schools open no doubt was a juggling act but virtual learning is well documented to not be as effective plus kids suffering without the social interaction. The other issue is child care. Like it or not, schools do provide that with their after school programs. Likewise for daycare.