News

1. Don’t start stressing out over who will be part of your “bubble family” yet

Premier Stephen McNeil (l) and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang at the COVID-19 briefing, Wednesday, May 13, 2020. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

Jennifer Henderson covered yesterday’s COVID-19 briefing for the Halifax Examiner, and reports that we shouldn’t expect the province to adopt the bubble family concept anytime soon. (The idea behind bubble families is that you choose one or two other households with which to socialize, with the members of each household taking measures to reduce the risk of being infected by the novel coronavirus.)

Henderson writes:

Strang is not keen on that model because he says it forces people to make stressful choices between their friends (or kids’ friends) and their relatives. He suggests Nova Scotia may go down a different path.

“Right now we have limitations on essential social gatherings for only five people or less,” noted Strang. “Maybe the way to do this is not ‘bubble families’ but loosening some of the restrictions around what type of gatherings and the numbers that are allowed. We continue to look at that in our consultations among various sectors about Phase 1 of the Recovery.”

When New Brunswick introduced this model there was lots of joking online about the stress of trying to choose. It’s a real issue. We’ve talked about who would we pick. Does it make more sense to mingle with a couple who are good friends and neighbours, or with our son who lives in the city? Sure, I want to hang out with my kid, but realistically, how often would we be getting together? And what about relatives who may live nearby? Complicated decisions.

There is, of course, much more to the always-so-thorough Henderson’s report, and you can read the whole thing here.

2. 45 Northwood residents have now died of COVID-19

Northwood. Photo: Kent Martin

Henderson also reports on the ongoing situation at Northwood, including the news that coronavirus infection seems to have now spread to a new section of the facility:

About 80% of the COVID-19 cases at the Northwood complex in Halifax have been in the Centre where the frailest people receive nursing care. Family members of residents and tenants in the Manor have expressed concerns about possible spread, in part because Northwood can’t order tenants of the Manor to wear masks and social distancing is voluntary. Today we learned smoking rooms may be another possible vector.

Smoking rooms? I don’t know anyone at Northwood, so I’m surprised to learn smoking rooms are still a thing anywhere in the province. Northwood has four of them.

“We have learned from this and will do everything we can to help prevent this from occurring again,” said [Northwood CEO] Janet Simm. “We currently have 78 vacancies which is allowing us to develop private rooms and do the cohorting. We are in conversations with government about what our go-forward plan looks like.”

Henderson also reports that in an online briefing yesterday that Simm says Northwood has hired a public relations firm “to make sure we were transparent and responsive.”

Read “45 Northwood residents have died with COVID-19” here.

3. Fighting over scraps

A green bin ready for pick-up in Halifax. Photo: Twitter/@hfxgov

In its ongoing efforts to cut spending, Halifax councillors yesterday continued to look at how they can cut spending and increase revenue, given the drastic drop in revenue caused by the pandemic.

Zane Woodford reports that some councillors are not happy with the scope of proposed cuts, especially to police and fire services:

During regional council’s budget committee meeting on Wednesday, the second day in a row, councillors approved a motion from Coun. Waye Mason requesting a staff report on reversing some of those cuts.

“It seems to me that there is a kind of general consensus among most councillors … to explore an alternative to what’s been proposed in terms of staffing, volunteer firefighter recognition, grants, and programs,” Mason said.

Mason’s motion proposes to reverse up to $33 million worth of proposed cuts to staffing through a hiring freeze and vacancy management (the practice of leaving vacant positions unfilled), a volunteer firefighter recognition program, grants, and other programs.

Woodford details all the options under discussion, including the decision to cut weekly summer green bin pickup in order to save just over $1 million.

Read “Halifax councillors look at extra risk to save cuts, scrap weekly green bin pick-up” here.

4. Not leaving on a jet plane

The Halifax airport is nearly deserted. Photo: Kent Martin

I knew traffic at the airport was down drastically, but I had no idea how drastically until I read this CBC News story:

On a typical day in May, there are usually 11,000 travellers flying in and out of Halifax Stanfield International Airport. That number is now at roughly 200 to 300 passengers on just a handful of flights — down 98 per cent…

On Wednesday, there were just six flights on the board. [Airport CEO Joyce] Carter said that is down from an average of about 100. A flight last week to Toronto had just 14 people on it, she said.

“When we look at 2021, we expect to have passenger numbers equivalent to what we saw approximately in 1995. So that’s a pretty dramatic dip,” Carter said.

5. We need a public inquiry into the RCMP response to the mass murder rampage

Nova Scotia RCMP chief investigative officer, Chris Leather said he was “very satisfied” with the force’s use of  Twitter to warn residents of an active shooter in their rural community. Photo: Halifax Examiner.

In Maclean’s, Stephen Maher raises “six key questions” into “the way the RCMP handled the nightmarish onslaught.”

His story, “The Nova Scotia shooting and the mistakes the RCMP may have made,” lays out in considerable detail some of the seemingly baffling decisions and missteps made by the force on April 18 and 19.

On one of these questions — why the RCMP didn’t enlist the help of other forces, Maher writes:

While RCMP officers were shooting up the fire hall, unbeknownst to police, the killer was driving around in his replica cruiser through the downtown business district of Truro…

Truro Police… contacted the RCMP to offer assistance but “the RCMP thanked us for our offer but did not ask for assistance,” said spokeswoman Josee Gallant.

It is not clear why the RCMP didn’t ask the Truro and Amherst police to set up roadblocks to prevent the killer from leaving the area. Roadblocks at the entrances to Highway 102, which leads to the killer’s Dartmouth home, could easily have been blocked by Truro police, closing a natural chokepoint where the Bay of Fundy divides the province.

“The Truro Police cannot comment on what the RCMP did or did not do,” said Gallant. “The Truro police was not asked to set up roadblocks or a perimetre for containment.”

The Truro Police only became aware that the killer had driven through Truro “when the RCMP released the video showing the vehicle driving through town [approximately a week later].”

Officers shooting up the fire hall in Onslow and then driving off; the communications fiasco; the hesitation to call in help — the underlying reasons for these and other decisions are just crying out for a public inquiry.

And look, nobody is suggesting the officers who responded during the chaotic night of April 18 should have gotten everything right. Maher goes out of his way in his story to recognize the unprecedented circumstances and the scope of what police on the scene were dealing with.

He writes:

When police eventually moved in, they did so cautiously, with their flashlights off so that they wouldn’t present easy targets to the killer. “It would almost be described as a war zone,” said a law enforcement source.

“Fires. Gunshots everywhere. Miniature explosions, propane tanks in garages and in houses. It’s dark. The only light you’re going to get is whatever’s from the police cars and whatever’s from the burning houses.”

One source says officers believed they caught glimpses of the killer moving between houses as they proceeded.

“You’re alone. You’ve got bodies. You’ve got houses on fire. And you don’t know how many shooters there are.”

But that’s no reason not to investigate the seeming failures of the response.

Asked about the need for an inquiry at yesterday’s briefing, premier Stephen McNeil was non-committal.


Views

1. Theater

Sebastien “Inspector” Heins. Photo: Dasha Peregoudova

This week, I’ve been participating in an interactive theatre/art project called The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries, from Toronto company Outside the March.

The company is known for doing site-specific, non-traditional theatre. One of their plays was set in a kindergarten classroom. Another involved a performer tuning a piano in a living room, while exploring his and his family’s history with mental illness.

The pandemic, has, of course, led to the cancellation of theatrical performances. Outside the March was to have a show on at Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre, which may get rescheduled for a later date. Site-specific shows in small spaces are out too. So, to provide some entertainment and work for improv actors, the company came up with The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries.

They describe the show this way:

This customized improvised narrative experience unfolds over a week’s worth of short daily phone calls, as our intrepid private investigators delve into your very own micro mystery using the investigative power of good conversation.

It is hugely entertaining.

When you sign up for the show (you pay a $25-$35 “connection fee,” with the amount depending on your circumstances) you inform the ministry of the mundane mystery you’re looking to have solved. Mine involves a pair of missing Japanese chopsticks.

I won’t give away too many details — though, of course, the show is personalized for each participant. On Monday, an inspector called me from the ministry to discuss my case. We had a friendly, relaxed, and wide-ranging chat, most of which had very little do with the missing chopsticks. Little did I realize she was mining me for information.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I received calls from different characters. One claimed to be a fellow writer with inside information. The other claimed to be a publisher offering me a book deal. But let me tell you, I saw through her ruse and refused to give her the info she was clearly after about cooking and eating utensils.

The calls come at the same time every day (you book a time when you sign up) and if you can’t be reached the first time, they’ll try you a couple more times. If that doesn’t work, you get a voicemail.

The whole thing is a pleasant diversion, and every day I look forward to seeing who is going to call next, and what the next twist is in the narrative intrigue my chopsticks have kicked off by going missing.


Noticed

The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic in Canada. Epidemiologists learn from history and from up-to-the-minute current events. Photo: Library Archives Canada

On Tuesday, I wrote that I would have something to say today about how epidemiologists rely on local news. Unfortunately, my computer decided to spend a good chunk of my writing time this morning updating, so I can’t get into this as deeply as I’d like to.

I will point you to this 2018 story in STAT by Helen Branswell. Entitled “When towns lose their newspapers, disease detectives are left flying blind,” which looks at how epidemiologists can be alerted to outbreaks by monitoring local media:

“Local media is the bedrock of internet surveillance — the kind of work that we do in terms of scouring the web looking for early signs of something taking place in a community,” explained [John] Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s and a pioneer in the field of using sources other than public health data to do this type of work.

He pointed to the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic as an example of a case in which local reporting helped to bring an emerging disease threat to global attention.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was the first agency to detect that two young children in California had been infected with a flu strain circulated in pigs. As officials were trying to figure out if the cases were blips or part of something bigger, however, disease detectives began crawling through recent media reports to determine whether unusual numbers of people with flu-like illness in Mexico had also been sickened by the new virus. It turned out they had been. The new virus was spreading.

“It makes sense that if we see a reduction in local reporting, you’re not going to have that early signaling of something in a community,” Brownstein said.

Here in Canada, Project Pandemic is using the same kind of data to track COVID-19 outbreaks across the country. A collaborative project coordinated by Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism (the same people who helped bring you the investigations into lead in water supplies), the project has local staff across the country scouring reports for outbreaks and mapping them. Journalists from many different media outlets are also contributing.

I spoke with Emma Wilkie, who is working for the project out of Halifax. She said she looks at a wide range of sources, from local media reports to press releases from long-term care homes. For instance, long-term-care home operator Shannex will issue a release when employees test positive, and Wilkie can add that information to the map. The project, she said, aims to help journalists understand patterns and get access to local stories they might otherwise miss.

If you’ve tested positive for the novel coronavirus, don’t worry. The project is not looking to put individual homes or postal codes on the map. “We’re not going to pinpoint somebody’s house. We’re looking at institutions,” Wilkie said.


Government

City

Thursday

10:30am:  Special Halifax and West Community Council — teleconference. Agenda here.

Friday

No meetings.

Province

No public meetings.


In the harbour

No ship movement today. Resident ship-watcher Tim Bousquet says this is “odd but not unprecedented.”

To make up for the lack ships, here’s a shot of my brother and sister-in-law’s boat (on the right) sailing past the Statue of Liberty a few years ago.


Footnotes

If you have an early morning deadline, check the night before to see if your computer needs updating.

Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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    1. You can see ALL fights on https://flightaware.com/ The golden age of flight is over, there will be mass layoffs around the world. Perhaps the board of Halifax Airport will decide to work for $1 a year rather than what they were paid in 2018 :
      Chair: M. Mullally
      $ 52,938
      (effective March 31, 2018)
      Chair: W. Fares
      $ 34,568
      (term completed March 30, 2018)
      Vice Chair: S. Dempsey
      $ 32,793
      (effective March 31, 2018)
      D. Bastow
      $ 19,200
      R. Batherson
      $ 25,150
      B. Buckles
      $ 15,900
      (term completed July 26, 2018)
      J. Fitzpatrick
      $ 24,142
      (appointed Chair, Capital Projects Committee
      March 31, 2018)
      D. Holland
      $ 17,700
      A. MacGregor
      $ 8,129
      (term completed March 26, 2018)
      A. MacKenzie
      $ 21,442
      (appointed Chair, Audit Committee March 31, 2018)
      A. MacLean
      $ 19,500
      B. Nycum
      $ 9,427
      (joined the Board March 31, 2018

      1. At the moment I looked at the flightaware map (about 5:15 pm) it was quite interesting to see how out of step the US is.

  1. Hiring a PR firm? They had in house but cut a lot of those to fit in a rebranding firm shortly after Simms came on board. The same firm I believe Simms has used before.

  2. I SO enjoy this–paper? What would you call it in the Age of Online?–it has become one of the high points of my day, both for the excellence of the reporting and the charm of the actual writing. THANK YOU for keeping me sane during the plague–and for alerting me to the promise; the potential; and the responsibility of reinventing the world–BETTER.