News

1. Zero COVID cases

For the first time since Nov. 12, zero cases of COVID-19 were announced in Nova Scotia yesterday (Sunday, Jan. 10). Obviously, one day of zero new cases doesn’t defeat the virus — there remain 28 known active cases in the province, and with people continually flying in from places ridden with the virus (basically, nearly the rest of the planet), we’ll no doubt see plenty more cases — but one day of zero does underscore the success Nova Scotia is experiencing in controlling the disease. We should be proud of ourselves.

And, no one is in hospital with the disease.

Nova Scotia Health labs conducted 1,343 tests Saturday.

Here are the new daily cases and seven-day rolling average since the start of the second wave (Oct. 1):

And here is the active caseload for the second wave:

Here is the possible exposure map:

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2. Who gets vaccinated first?

Nova Scotia’s first allotment of COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

Vaccinations to protect long-term care residents from COVID-19 begin today at Northwood in Halifax and Bedford, Shannex’s Parkstone, and at Ocean View Continuing Care in Eastern Passage. 

Staff, designated caregivers, and residents in long-term care facilities are included in Phase 1 of the vaccine roll-out. which runs until the end of March. The first clinics for health-care workers in Cape Breton and the Annapolis Valley also open today. 

The province has said it expects to receive more than a million doses of vaccine in the first six months of 2021; at two shots per person, that’s enough for about half the population of the province.

Not surprisingly, people with underlying medical conditions, prisoners, and even health-care professionals have conflicting opinions about who should be first in line. During last Friday’s COVID-19 briefing (when restrictions heightened at the border with New Brunswick and casinos got the green light to re-open), Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang expressed some frustration. He said Public Health has been flooded with requests from different groups asking to be prioritized for vaccination. 

“Stop doing this,” pleaded Strang, asking citizens to trust Public Health to decide which groups should be among the earliest to receive the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. 

Who gets the shot when?

As of January 5, the Department of Health has identified five groups eligible to be vaccinated by the end of March. They include:

• front-line health care workers involved in the COVID-19 response
• all staff, designated caregivers, and residents in long-term care homes
• residents and staff in group homes (residential care facilities) 
• seniors over the age of 80 living in the community 
• health care workers, such as physicians, nurses, paramedics, and home-care workers.

It’s not clear if there is a priority established for people in these five groups. As an example, should someone over the age of 80 living in their own home receive a dose before a nurse working on a general ward? 

“We cannot provide or speculate on when a specific group will begin to receive the vaccine,” said Marla MacInnis, senior communications spokesperson for the Department of Health. “We know this will look different across the province, based on vaccine availability and supply. For example, in Central Zone we are vaccinating healthcare workers and soon will also start to vaccinate residents in long-term care at the same time. As we receive more vaccine, we will be able to expand who from the Phase 1 groups can receive the vaccine.”

Why radiologists? 

That said, the Halifax Examiner was surprised to learn that diagnostic radiologists working in the Metro area were among the first to have received the vaccine. It’s surprising because most radiologists do not have face-to-face contact with patients. 

“Radiologists are medical doctors that specialize in diagnosing and treating injuries and diseases using medical imaging (radiology) procedures (exams/tests) such as X-rays, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear medicine, positron emission tomography (PET) and ultrasound,” reads one job description.

Diagnostic radiologists are specialists who interpret images that help inform a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan for a patient. They spend a lot of time screening images in dark rooms and writing reports to send other doctors. Arguably, nurses, family physicians, internists, surgeons, and paediatricians would all be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 because of their direct contact with patients. The exception would be a very few “interventional radiologists” who use imaging techniques to perform procedures on patients ranging from installing catheters to locating embolisms in lungs.

Based on information the Examiner received, we asked the Department of Health if radiologists and radiology residents working in the Central Zone had received their first vaccination. The email reply from the Department of Health confirms radiologists were vaccinated, but not how many. It did not mention residents who are newly graduated medical doctors (MDs) doing four years of additional training specializing in radiology. Instead, the response from the Department of Health included another group of healthcare professionals who do have direct contact with patients: the technologists who operate the equipment to do X-rays, MRIs, ultrasounds, CT, and PET scans.

“Radiologists and technologists who work in and are in contact with patients from COVID-19 units, emergency departments and critical care were identified to receive the vaccine in December with other front-line healthcare workers directly involved in the COVID-19 response,” wrote MacInnis. “The Nova Scotia Health Authority may be able to provide you with the numbers and locations you are looking for. December’s allotment was used in Central Zone for those in diagnostic imaging who provide direct patient care for COVID patients in COVID-19 units, emergency departments, and critical care.”

But by including both the doctors and the technologists who work in the radiology field, that answer neatly sidesteps the question of whether the radiologists should have been among the first for getting vaccinated. It seems a reasonable question, but one that is unlikely to receive an answer, given what Dr. Strang said on Friday. The Department of Health did not provide any numbers on how many radiologists and radiology residents were vaccinated in Central Zone. A spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Health Authority said it has not received any data about which occupational groups have been or will get inoculated.

What is the process for deciding which groups get vaccinated and in what order? 

“Sequencing is a collaborative approach,” wrote MacInnis. “Recommendations are made to the Chief Medical Officer of Health for approval based on the NACI guidelines and in consultation with other partners (infectious disease experts, public health experts and logistics/planning teams).”

In Nova Scotia, the buck stops with the Chief Medical Officer of Health. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) guidelines were published December 23.

Hopefully as more vaccines are developed and approved for safe use, these kind of issues will fade as rationing becomes unnecessary.

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3. Volunteering for vaccine program

Dr. Lisa Barrett believes volunteers might be able to help more Nova Scotians get vaccinated more quickly when phase 3 of the province’s vaccination rollout kicks into gear this summer. Photo: Steven Cornfield

“When Dr. Lisa Barrett shared a colleague’s social media call-out wondering if Nova Scotians would be interested in volunteering with the province’s vaccine roll-out, she expected it would garner interest,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

What she didn’t expect was the rapid response and the numbers of people who reached out indicating they wanted to participate in what is currently just a kernel of an idea.

She suggests volunteers might be able to help with Phase 3 of the rollout, expected to begin this summer. That will include all Nova Scotians who weren’t part of the Phase 1 and Phase 2 priority groups. She’s already thinking about how an alternate vaccine delivery model could help expedite things.

Barrett stressed it’s not about trying to find people to do free work. She described it as a short- or medium-term solution to a longer-term issue. She added that for many people, volunteering also offers a sense of giving back and makes them feel like they’re helping in a concrete way in the fight against the virus.

Click here to read “How should volunteering fit into a mass vaccination program?”

I admit I’ve been skeptical of using volunteers to provide health care, but I think Barrett has sold me on the notion that there’s such a big immediate need that there’s a role for volunteers.

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4. Researchers are examining your poop

Nova Scotia researchers have launched a project to detect presence of the virus that causes COVID-19 in human wastewater. Photo: Jan Antonin Kola

“A project launched Friday to track the presence of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia wastewater is expected to help researchers more quickly identify the virus before it can spread,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

Researchers from across the province are participating in the project, which builds on a pilot study launched last summer. Sampling is already underway in areas of the province selected by the research team in cooperation with provincial public health officials and Nova Scotia Health (NSH).

“Together we are working to develop a wastewater surveillance program on a provincial scale that will provide early and accurate detection of SARS-CoV-2, which could ultimately enable proactive and preventative COVID-19 health and economic response measures,” lead researcher Graham Gagnon of Dalhousie University said in a Research Nova Scotia media release.

Click here to read “Dalhousie researchers are looking for COVID in your poop.”

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5. The business of fake donations

“On this Makeover Monday,” writes Stephen Kimber, “let us pretend — because there will be more than a little smoke-and-mirrors pretend in this column — that it is actually the morning of Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011.”:

On that day, according to Dalhousie News, the official public relations organ of Dalhousie University, this happened:

Though it was pouring rain outside, the thunderous sound emanating through the halls of the Rowe Building were actually coming from inside the atrium.

It was the cheering and applause following President Tom Traves’ announcement that the man after whom the building is named, Kenneth C. Rowe, was making a $15 million gift to the School of Business.

The major gift, the latest in Dalhousie’s Bold Ambitions campaign, is the largest donation ever to Dalhousie from a Nova Scotian.

“I think our audience has said it all, Ken,” said Dr. Traves with a smile, when the roar of approval had died down at this morning’s celebration event.

Uh… The only problem with the article, which appears below an ALL CAPS, no-mistaking-this headline — “KEN ROWE DONATES $15 MILLION TO THE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS” — is that it simply wasn’t true.

There may have been rain pouring down outside and thunderous applause inside the Rowe Business School that day, but there was no $15 million gift.

The actual figure, which all parties at the podium knew but failed to mention, was just $10 million.

Rowe is the founder of IMP Group, the Nova Scotia-based multinational aerospace company. His personal net worth is estimated at $1.8 billion, ranking him 79th on a recent Canadian Business magazine listing of Canada’s richest folk.

He could afford $15 million, certainly $10 million. But then there’s this. The true amount Rowe gave to the university is closer to $5 million — that’s five million less than actually promised, 10 million less than advertised.

Click here to read “When is $15 million really $10 million, but actually only $5 million?”

This article is for subscribers. Click here to subscribe.

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6. The Spectator’s public records fight

“I had expected to spend this week poring over documents released by the CBRM in response to my 2015 FOIPOP request,” writes Mary Campbell of the Cape Breton Spectator:

I knew I wouldn’t receive all 890 pages Privacy Commissioner Tricia Ralph recommended I be given — 28 pages previously released with unnecessary redactions, 862 pages withheld entirely — but based on my communications with James Gogan of Breton Law Group, the external counsel hired by the CBRM to handle both my initial request and the response to the commissioner’s review, I believed I would have a substantial number of pages to get on with by early January.

Silly me.

On November 3, in response to Ralph’s review, Gogan sent me the timeline the CBRM intended to follow in releasing the information:

i) That information which is readily identifiable for release – on or before December 31, 2020; and

ii) That information which is undergoing a secondary legal review for determination of release – on or before January 30, 2021

On December 16, I received 14 pages of information by registered mail, Gogan’s document-delivery method of choice (although the FOIPOP request form allows the applicant to choose their preferred format for records and I had chosen electronic). Gogan told me I could expect “a further release of information on or before December 31, 2020.”

No such release of information materialized.

Which means Gogan took over a month to release 14 previously released pages or 0.2% of the documents to which I am entitled.

Click here to read “Fourteen Out of 890 Ain’t Bad?”

As with the Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator is subscriber supported, and so this article is behind the Spectator’s paywall. Click here to purchase a subscription to the Spectator, or click on the photo below to get a joint subscription to both the Spectator and the Examiner.
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Noticed

Way back when it was announced in early 2019, I was entirely opposed to the media bailout proposed by the Trudeau government, for all the obvious reasons: news orgs shouldn’t be taking government money, news orgs shouldn’t be vetted by government for standing, it was obviously designed as a bailout for legacy media, it was structured to deny access to funds by truly small startups, and more.

Stephen Kimber, quoting me extensively, spelled out his (and my) objections to the bailout, which would go to government-designated “Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations,” or QCJOs:

The question really is whether the government should help delay their inevitable demise, or provide support for newly emerging media. Or…?

We know from Tim Bousquet’s “best guesses” Friday that his competitors — the Chronicle Herald and its Saltwire Network ($1.375 million), allnovascotia.com ($178,750) and the Star Metro division of Torstar ($41,250) — will all qualify to benefit from the government’s new deal for Canadian journalism.

The Halifax Examiner?

“Halifax Examiner Inc. will receive $0,” Tim wrote. That is true even though the four-year-old Examiner is “an independent adversarial news site devoted to holding the powerful accountable…” And even though the Examiner publishes every weekday and its focus is advertising-free, 100-per cent local news and commentary… And, more, even though the Examiner’s investigative reporting helped bring attention to the wrongful conviction of Glen Assoun and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Holly Bartlett and the stunning epic tale of how Nova Scotia billionaire John Risley wound up in bed with an arms dealer suing the South African government over an apartheid-era contract and…

The answer is still no, zero, nada…

That’s partly because the Examiner, like many digital news start-ups in the country, is owned by its creator-/publisher, who is also the publication’s elbows-on primary reporter and most everything else.

Under the pre-established criteria for government support, a QCJO would have to show it “regularly employs two or more journalists in the production of its content who deal at arm’s length with the organization.”

Jennifer Henderson, El Jones, Linda Pannozza, Evelyn White, Philip Moscovitch, Erica Butler, Joan Baxter, and me, among others — all paid freelancers providing “content” to the Examiner — don’t count.

The reality of today’s news media — and many other industries, of course — is that there are very few salary-paying, benefit-providing gigs these days. Despite the government’s grand talk of refundable tax credits for companies hiring those who produce “original written news content,” the reality, as April Lindgren of Ryerson University’s local-news research project, told CTV News: “I don’t think it’s going to spark a whole bunch of new hires of journalists.”

Tim was more blunt: “In practice, I doubt [the Herald’s] Mark Lever and Sarah Dennis will use their subsidy to hire new reporters. Probably the money will just go to pay down the huge debt for that printing plant and maybe pay for a new coat of paint on their south end mansion. But the subsidy will put off the inevitable collapse of the Herald, which is the point where, all other things being equal, the Examiner and other startups begin to get much wider traction.”

Well, that was then, and this is now. Let’s bring the story to May of 2020, after the bailout began, when I wrote:

As much as Torstar has been haemorrhaging money, last year the company managed to pay its top five executives a total of $4.7 million, which incidentally was 70% of the cash the company received through the federal government’s media bailout. That’s enough money to run the entire Halifax Examiner operation for the next 20 years. Or, seen another way, it’s enough to run 20 Halifax Examiners across the country for a year.

At about the same time as I wrote the above words, the world exploded. The pandemic had set in, and a mass murderer took the lives of 22 Nova Scotians. The Examiner went all-in with our news coverage, and readers responded with financial support — in the 2020 calendar year, the number of Examiner subscribers doubled. Thanks to the new subscribers, we were first able to increase our freelance budget, then hire two reporters, Zane Woodford and Yvette d’Entremont.

With two reporters on staff, the Examiner suddenly, and unexpectedly, met the criteria for being a QCJO.

So I had some hard thinking to do, weighing my principled objections to the government subsidy with the reality of running a media organization. First, as a business owner, could I really just leave that potential money sitting on the table? Then, I had to consider: if Saltwire was getting the subsidy and the Examiner wasn’t, was it really a level playing field, competitionwise? And on top of that, I got the Examiner in a protracted and very costly legal battle with the RCMP and crown over unsealing the mass murder search warrants, which struck me as a prime Examiner responsibility, costs be damned.

And so, against my better nature, in June I applied for the Examiner to be a Qualified Canadian Journalistic Organization. The bureaucracy, it moves slowly. They needed more information, then more information, and on and on, but finally, on New Year’s Eve, the woman in charge of the CRA Journalism division called me to say that the Halifax Examiner has qualified as a QCJO.

That means that after we file the corporate income taxes in March, we’ll get a 25% wage subsidy for Zane and Yvette (prorated to when we hired them), minus any corporate income taxes owed and deducting the payroll tax reduction all companies received as relief early in the pandemic. I’ll leave it up to the accountant to calculate the exact amount, but I have a ballpark sense of it.

As the Examiner will be receiving public money, I feel I have an obligation to provide a degree of transparency to readers and the public generally. You should know how your money is being used.

Money is fungible. For the 2020 fiscal year, the subsidy means that one arm of the government (the CRA) is in effect covering the Examiner’s costs for taking other arms of the government (the RCMP and federal and provincial Crowns) to court. It almost exactly evens out, cost-wise. Of course, we’ve already paid the legal bills, so that’s just rationalization.

For budgeting purposes, the subsidy will be used as a primer to hire more reporters. In the past, I’ve budgeted such that new reporters “pay for themselves” in a year; anyone can do the math, but every new reporter costs X subscribers, and so within a year after hiring someone, we need X new subscribers. It’s worked out well, so far. But now with the subsidy we can speed that process up considerably.

The point is, the money won’t be used to personally enrich me; my pay will continue to be based on a formula we calculated before we qualified for the subsidy. And the Examiner won’t become dependent on the subsidy for operating expenses — all the subsidy money received will be budgeted to hire new reporters, who will continue to “pay for themselves” with additional subscribers such that should a future government axe the subsidy we won’t have to lay off staff. Further, when we receive the money, I will explicitly say how much it is, and at the end of 2021 I will detail how it was spent.

Lastly, many people have asked about the digital subscription tax credit. There’s good news: with the QCJO status, the Examiner will soon become a qualifying media company for the tax credit (meaning you can deduct your Examiner subscription from your taxable income). The not-so-good news: there’s a separate application required to make that a reality. I hope to get all the paperwork in for that this week. I have no idea how long it will take to get approved, or if approval will allow the credit to be applied retroactively to all of 2020. I’ll let you know the moment I know.

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Government

City

Monday

North West Community Council (Monday, 7pm) — virtual meeting. Live webcast and captioning available.

Tuesday

Halifax Regional Council, Committee of the Whole, and Budget Committee (Tuesday, 10am) — virtual meetings. Committee of the Whole agenda; Budget Committee agenda; Regional Council agenda. Live webcast instructions at the links, with live meeting captioning available.

Province

Monday

No meetings.

Tuesday

Health (Tuesday, 1pm) — video conference. Long-Term Care is the agenda, with Kevin Orrell and Vicki Elliott-Lopez from Continuing Care; Susan Stevens from Nova Scotia Health; Jason MacLean and Lynette Johnson from NSGEU; Michele Lowe from Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association; Govind Rao from CUPE; Janet Hazelton from Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union; and Linda MacNeil from Unifor. Info, CART services, and viewing links here.


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

University Prep 101 (Tuesday, 8pm) — 30-minute webinar to explore Uprep courses, in case you were thinking of going to university. Info and registration here.


In the harbour

05:30: MSC Eleni, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Sines, Portugal
16:00: Elka Nikolas, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
16:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Palm Beach, Florida
18:30: MSC Eleni sails for New York


Footnotes

This morning, I am (virtually) attending yet another court hearing in the search warrant application. I don’t expect any news to come out of it.

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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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11 Comments

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  1. I think this is nit-picking about radiologists receiving the vaccine. The email response indicates that some of them are front-line workers dealing with patients, and they would have been eligible under the final category anyways: “health care workers, such as physicians, nurses, paramedics, and home-care workers.”

    Sure some mistakes and questionable decisions might be made in the exact priority of the vaccine rollout. But rules that are too strict and burdensome have led New York State, for example, to throw out vaccines that they couldn’t administer. I’d rather see a ‘lower priority’ priority group vaccinated than have that happen.

  2. Just curious about the formula calculated to determine Tim’s salary. Not because I want to know his salary, or have any doubt that it is well-deserved, but because as a former journalist, I saw many editors-in-chief/analogous roles receive pay not entirely commensurate to their theoretical roles, i.e. they were nowhere near as hands on with reporters/stories as Tim (understand why, given the size of some news orgs). Also their roles in the 21st century can but shouldn’t involve PR, sales, gov’t relations and a whole lot of non-editorial stuff, which they need to justify.

    I have no doubts regarding HE’s integrity but, seeing as how it began as a one-man show, hope you are getting a fair wage!

    1. I’ve been underpaid. So as the Examiner subscription roll increases, 20% of all new subscription revenue (again, not the subsidy money) is going towards my salary until I match the pay of other local reporters. I have no desire to get rich off this operation, but I should be fairly compensated. The other 80% goes towards the rest of the operation, including increasing reporting, better compensation for freelancers, expanding benefits for employees, and executing a long-planned expansion of the business.

  3. Regarding incoming travellers: according to current government guidance, students coming back into NS from outside of NS-PEI-NL are being encouraged to get a COVID-19 test even if they are asymptomatic on day 6, 7, or 8 of their self-isolation. However, other incoming travellers are not asked to do so (except for incoming rotating workers who have different test requirements). I was curious about the rationale for this – why students but not the other incoming travellers? Is it because the province still suspects students are not going to comply so well with self-isolation, or is it because students are less likely to show symptoms, or what? I wonder whether any Halifax Examiner readers or reporters know the answer to this.

  4. While the detailed explanation and promised transparency are much appreciated, your receipt of these, or any other government funds is of no concern to me, except for the knowledge that you will be able to increase your journalistic output. Well done.

  5. Regarding
    2. Who gets vaccinated first? ” five groups eligible to be vaccinated by the end of March ”

    What numbers exactly are we talking about here ? 10,000 50,000 100,000 ? Please ask at the next news conference.

    Stellar work at the Halifax Examiner ! First news source I go to.

  6. Just to clarify a bit, the Digital News Subscription Tax Credit isn’t a deduction from your taxable income, but rather a 15% tax credit on amounts paid to an eligible QCJO, to a max of $500/year (max credit of $75).

    I would expect subscriptions to the Examiner to be eligible assuming it doesn’t hold a broadcast license.

    CRA states that for amounts to qualify for the credit, the organization being paid must be a QCJO at the time the amount is paid. Not sure if the Examiner’s QCJO status will be back dated to the date it met the qualifications or if the relevant date will be Dec 31, 2020. Fingers crossed for the earlier date.

      1. I’ll continue to subscribe even without a tax credit (it’s not gonna change my tax situation in any way), but very glad that the Halifax Examiner will have some funding to keep its reporters reporting. My subscription to this news source is some of the best money I have ever spent. I keep encouraging everyone I know to subscribe – not sure if anyone has, but I do try. 🙂 Keep up the great work!