News

1. Here’s why the liquor stores are open

Dr. Leah Genge. Photo: Mobile Outreach Street Health/ Facebook.

The Halifax Examiner is providing all COVID-19 coverage for free.

I’ve seen a lot of joking about the liquor stores being open when almost everything else is shut down. Boy, we sure love our liquor in Nova Scotia, eh?

If you’re wondering why it’s important to keep the NSLC open, Yvette d’Entremont has a story for you. She speaks to Dr. Leah Genge, a family doctor with expertise in addiction:

“I am so pleased that the premier and our provincial leadership has advocated to keep the NSLC open because I think that’s crucial,” Dr. Leah Genge said in an interview Monday…

“We have many people who live with alcohol use disorder in the HRM and across the province. Alcohol use disorder can affect anybody, and it is particularly prevalent here in Nova Scotia,” she said.

“The risk of just removing all access to those safe substances can have very severe consequences.”

The risk of alcohol withdrawal can be potentially fatal for some people due to withdrawal seizures and other complications of severe withdrawal.

“That not only has immediate health risks to the patient, but it also puts undue strain on our health care system which is already coping with COVID right now,” Genge said.

Genge is incredibly thoughtful and looks at this issue from a variety of perspectives. I encourage you to read the whole story.

Our COVID-19 coverage is free, but if you subscribe we would all appreciate it.

2. Daily COVID-19 update

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

Here is the latest update, by Tim.

From the story:

“At this point we are not seeing any cases related to community spread,” said Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer. “We are actively looking for community spread. To me, that’s an indication of success. We have asked people when they return to Nova Scotia to self-isolate and limit their exposure to others… we’re seeing very small numbers of close contacts, mostly household contacts. So people are doing what we’re asking them to do… The system is working. While we’re getting cases, we’re limiting the ability for this virus to spread throughout Nova Scotia.”

One of the issues that seems to have caused a lot of confusion is the question of trails. Someone in my family who lives in the North End was wondering if she is allowed to walk across the Common, for instance, if she is going to get groceries. Since municipal active transportation trails are, as I understand it, classified as parks, they are currently closed.

This morning on CBC Radio, Waye Mason told Portia Clarke that the city is hoping to work with the province to make a list of trails that can stay open. He emphasized he is talking about active transportation routes, as opposed to, say, paths in the Public Gardens or Point Pleasant Park.

In the Chronicle Herald, Nicole Munro digs into the trail story, revealing some of the unintended absurdities of the situation:

For example, people walking or biking on the Beechville-Lakeside-Timberlea (BLT) trail on provincially-owned land would have to stop before it switches over to the Chain of Lakes trail on municipally-owned land…

“Unfortunately, it’s one of those situations where people have to go look for information on the municipal website, and even there it’s not quite clear because we’ve got Halifax-area trails listed on our parks and rec site, but some of them are actually provincially owned,” [Councillor Shawn] Cleary said, adding he’s received a number of calls for clarification on what’s open and what’s closed.

3. Psychiatrists and tele-health

Photo: Philip Moscovitch

In the Chronicle Herald, Jim Vibert writes about what seems to be a huge oversight in a provincial rule change allowing doctors to bill for phone appointments: it doesn’t include psychiatrists.

Doctors bill using fee codes. MSI now has one for phone or video appointments, which will pay them $38.65 per visit. That’s based on a typical visit with a family doctor which, in theory, lasts 10 minutes. (I have never had an appointment that short with my family doctor.)

Vibert says:

But that fee doesn’t work at all for fee-for-service psychiatrists, who will spend an hour or more with many of their patients, whether the appointment is face to face or virtual…

“All across Canada, provinces have made it possible for psychiatrists to safely treat their patients by telehealth during the pandemic,” said one Nova Scotia psychiatrist. “In fact, many provinces allow telehealth for psychiatrists as part of the regular provision of psychiatric care.”

But Nova Scotia has no billing provisions that are appropriate for psychiatric care unless it is conducted face to face.

When he asks the province about this, Vibert is dismayed by the response he gets, contrasting the language to the much more direct language coming from people like Robert Strang:

The provincial Department of Health and Wellness wasn’t able to shed much light on the omission. Asked if it was an oversight, the department replied a few days later with this:

“We continue to take measures to further prevent the spread of COVID-19 and increase capacity within the health system in Nova Scotia. These efforts include new options for virtual care for doctors and pharmacists using telephone and secure videoconferencing. We know that certain specialists may need to adapt to these unique circumstances to provide virtual care. We are working to find a solution that will continue to allow them to meet the needs of the Nova Scotians they care for.”

4. Accessible updates

Photo from ACEASL Facebook page.

I see courtesy of Dr. Linda Campbell’s Twitter feed that there is a Facebook page called Accessible Canadian Emergency Announcements in SL. You don’t need a Facebook account to access it.

From the page’s description:

This is the place to go for all Canadian live streamed and pre- or post-recorded emergency public health announcements with ASL and LSQ interpreting, including Deaf interpreters, for members of the Deaf community.

Facebook can be a hell-hole (apparently one of my friends knows someone at Stanford who is a real coronavirus expert), but it can be very useful for this sort of thing.


Views

1. A few thoughts about working from home and homeschooling

Schooling without schools. Photo of  LeMarchant-St. Thomas Elementary by Stephen Archibald. Fun fact: While doing an author visit at the old LMST, a teacher asked her Grade 2 class what the best part of the visit was, and one of the kids said, “We didn’t have to do math.”

I’ve worked at home almost exclusively for more than 20 years. And for a bit of that time (the 2000-2001 school year and part of 2002), we were homeschoolers also. When it came time for our oldest son to go to Grade Primary, we weren’t sure he was ready. We’d also moved relatively recently to Glen Margaret from Montreal, a move that necessitated a pretty much complete change of lifestyle. Here, we had a lot of open space, two parents at home, and the ability to help a kid with wide-ranging interests and passions follow them.

We’d also read a bunch of homeschooling books, and were particularly taken with the notion of unschooling: the idea that children learn naturally, that they love to learn, and that you don’t need to create complex, regimented structures for learning, or require them to go to institutions rooted in industrial-era thinking that risked stamping the creativity out of them. (This is how I thought at the time.) I learned to hate the phrase “they won’t even know they’re learning!” because kids love to learn. They are built to do it. They don’t like to learn in dull ways that don’t speak to them.

We joined a homeschooling group that met regularly and went out on field trips, and we had a great unschooling example in a neighbour — a single mother who raised her three boys at home with little in the way of formal education until they decided to go to high school. Her sons are an interesting bunch. One of them did a PhD in astrophysics and lived in Germany, then returned to Nova Scotia to go to NSCC and study geomatics.

The homeschoolers we knew seemed to fall into three categories: there were the left-leaning unschoolers like us, though some were more radical in their lack of any instruction time; the people who followed a set curriculum and kept regular class-at-home hours, sometimes with an actual classroom they’d set up (this seemed pointless to me); and the Christians who didn’t want their kids’ views tainted by the school system. Some of the people in this last category bought whole curricula, text books, workbooks and so on from suppliers in the US.

At the time, I was writing the Daisy Dreamer children’s comic for Chickadee magazine, and I agreed to do a session at a homeschooling conference. At the last minute I was told there could be no mention of magic, since it might offend the Christians. Daisy Dreamer was a girl with a magic ballcap that allowed her to transform into whatever animal she thought of, so adhering to that was going to be a bit of a challenge. (I can’t remember how I handled it, but I didn’t excise any of the stories in the comics for the sake of the presentation.) Eventually, I was elected to the board of the Nova Scotia homeschoolers group, but I resigned soon after, because we sent our kid to school.

I don’t know how generalizable our experience was, because we had several advantages over people who are homeschooling through a state of emergency. We had made the decision to do this ourselves; it wasn’t forced on us. We’d thought it through for a long time, so we were prepared. We had the ability to go out to meetups, music lessons, field trips, and so on. We were two stay-at-home parents who didn’t have jobs that required us to be on the clock for any specific hours. And we had dial-up internet and no cellphones, which meant we didn’t have to deal with the whole issue of screen time. (I will point you to this rather funny story from the satirical UK website The Daily Mash though, called Middle-class parents suddenly very enthusiastic about screens.”)

The one thing that I think does apply, no matter what, is to not beat yourself up or get too stressed about teaching your kids while school is shut down. If you have a child who benefits from things like regular schedules and set lessons, then by all means do what is best for them. But if you don’t, I would suggest being relaxed about what they are doing when, and not worrying about hours too much.

There is an awful lot of time in school that’s devoted to classroom management, getting kids from one place to another, and so on. You aren’t replicating that at home, so you don’t need to worry about giving your kids six hours, or whatever, of instructional time.

When we were homeschooling, we had to file a proposed curriculum with the Department of Education, then send a report at the end of the school year. Under science, our curriculum included growing and caring for plants, indoors and in the garden. For social studies, we learned about parts of the world where we had relatives (particularly Australia and Greece). In our end of the year report I note that we visited lego.com and spacekids.com particularly frequently and used the book Wow Canada! as a jumping-off point to learn about different parts of the country.

We did do a bit of formal learning, but generally used whatever opportunity afforded itself. Opening a a bag of vacuum-packed coffee beans? What’s a vacuum? How is it different from a vacuum cleaner? How do airlocks work? And so on.

Although I’ve prided myself on almost never having had a regular job, I have done a few stints working for the National Film Board, an organization I love, and still sometimes freelance for. (By the way, they have a huge collection of films you can view online free, including hundreds of works by Indigenous filmmakers.)

Part of that time I had a work-from-home arrangement with them. This was a couple of years after the homeschooling, and I was the primary stay-at-home parent for a while and not willing to go into the office for the three days a week I worked at the NFB. One thing I found was that I worked harder and longer when I was at home.

I was also incredibly stressed about it, because I felt guilty if I wasn’t working every minute I was on the clock for the NFB. They were paying me! And when I felt guilty I could get frustrated and angry. One of my kids made a drawing of me sitting at the keyboard and yelling.

I got way more stuff done at home than in the office. I realized how much time in the office was spent on socializing. Socializing in an office isn’t necessarily a waste of time. We were a good team, we liked each other, and our social interactions were pleasant. You need that to get through the day. But at home, if I wasn’t hammering away for all the hours I was supposed to be working, I felt guilty.

That made no sense at all, I realized later. (Of course, this does not apply if you are doing a different kind of work, like a remote call-centre job, which requires you to be available all the time.) I was getting all my work done, and then some. Chill, Phil.

If you are new to this whole work-from-home and/or work-from-home-with-kids thing, I am sure it is incredibly stressful at a time that is already stressful enough. If you can manage to not worry about working all the time and to have the confidence that your kids will be OK if they are not getting structured teaching, that might be helpful. Besides, if this shut-down goes on long enough, some form of structured teaching will return through online platforms.

I want to temper what I said above about schools by noting that there are, obviously, great advantages to public education. I’ve been doing writer visits to schools for a long time now, and I am consistently impressed with the compassion, resourcefulness, and ingenuity of so many of the teachers I meet.

I had a bunch of visits lined up that are now not going to happen, and I will miss them.

2. I’ve changed my mind about this item

I was going to write about someone on the local scene whose formerly problematic views have tipped over into the completely outrageous and unconscionable, and I was going to do it without linking to them for more exposure, but I’ve decided even that would be too much attention. All I’ll say is it’s amazing how quickly some people can go into full-tilt dangerous-as-hell thinking.


Noticed

Halifax councillor Waye Mason after a council meeting on Feb. 11, 2020. Photo: Jennifer Henderson. Future photos of the councillor for the next little while likely to come from his webcam.

Yesterday morning, I saw this tweet Waye Mason had posted the previous evening:

Nova Scotia has not announced a total eviction ban during the COVID-19 crisis. But under an order from the province, landlords are not allowed to evict tenants who have lost their jobs or whose income has suffered because of it.

In the “aren’t you a charmer” department, an anonymous account (9 followers, one of whom is Matt Whitman) replied:

A digression: A rental property is also known as an investment property. Investments carry risks. No investor has the right to expect a guaranteed return, no matter what’s going on in the world, unless, I guess, they are Nova Scotia Power investors. That’s not to say I feel no sympathy for someone renting out a unit and wondering what they’re going to do now. But the people who reply with “But I have a mortgage payment” or something along those lines seem to have — what shall I say — a very narrow personal focus.

Anyway, I was curious about what Mason learned after asking people for their stories, so I spoke with him yesterday afternoon.

Mason said he’d been in touch with some public health people, and that “we’ve been hearing from some people that they’ll be evicted if they don’t pay their rent if they lost their job because of COVID, and we’ve been hearing about landlords asking tenants if they’ve gotten COVID-19, and people getting notices in this crisis about rent increases.” He was curious about whether this was “one or two people who haven’t read the memo and don’t understand they can’t do what they’re doing” or if it was a broader problem.

Even though he’s received about 30 notes from Halifax and “across the province” from tenants being threatened with eviction if they don’t pay their rent, Mason says he “absolutely” believes the problem is primarily ignorance at this point.

I don’t know if the province has a database of landlords. I don’t know that there is an easy way to email or call or even send a letter to people who own a rental property. You are counting on people to pay attention and not everyone does. But ultimately it is an order, and they have to comply or they can be fined.

Mason says he personally knows a couple of landlords named in documents tenants sent him, he called them to tell them evictions would be illegal, and he says they understood.

Right now, mortgage relief is available for primary residences, but not for commercial or income properties. It’s out of the municipality’s jurisdiction, but Mason suspects that kind of relief is going to come soon for small-scale landlords.

Under the current rules, tenants can still be evicted for non-payment of rent if their income has not been affected by the pandemic. But, of course, that still doesn’t give landlords a right to know if tenants have tested positive for the virus. First, it’s confidential medical information, and second, tenants can be directly affected without being sick.

I wondered if some landlords aren’t believing their tenants when they say they can’t make rent, and Mason said:

The advice I’m giving landlords is take people at their word because the last thing we need is a bunch of bureaucrats arbitrating these decisions. On Twitter I said if you can pay rent you should, and if you can’t you shouldn’t. We are only eight days in this crisis and there is no mass of bureaucrats ready to arbitrate cases… [Tenancy is a provincial responsibility] but I’m seeing what I can do to help. Anything we can do to ease people’s burdens at this point. They should contact tenancy but they can contact me or their councillor.


Government

All meetings are cancelled.


On campus

All events are cancelled.


In the harbour

5:30: Undine, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
06:30: Atlantic Kestrel, offshore supply ship, arrives at Pier 9 from IJmuiden, Netherlands


Footnotes

That’s some listings section, isn’t it?

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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17 Comments

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  1. I’m sorry to the poster. I usually let a wide range of opinion play out in the comments, but one comment contained what I consider inaccurate information about social distancing, which, if followed, could impact public health. It’s been removed.

  2. Landlords assuming they can ask for sensitive medical information tracks well with how most landlords behave or think they can behave. Sensitive medical information is private no matter what business you are in, but landlords exist in a strange no-man’s land where there are technically laws but practically speaking they mean nothing because there is essentially no enforcement. The result is that landlords just assume they can do whatever they want, and they can, so they do.

    Also, becoming a landlord requires no skills or qualifications, just that you own property, so most landlords don’t bother to learn any rules, because why bother when there are no consequences for doing whatever you want as a landlord.

  3. Good morning everyone, the news on quelling community spread is calming !

    One of our family has a fragile immune system and as an older man more likely at risk if he contracts the virus. We also have a college student in an apartment in our home. We just bought them their own freezer [ they used to come into our basement to share ours] and we have requested they restrict use of our washer/dry and act mindfully to wipe it down with a chlorax solution after use. We will do the same.

    We have never considered asking them to leave, but it does seem this landlord-tenant street goes two ways and it is incumbent on BOTH parties to be respectful and helpful in avoiding further spread of the virus. We have no idea how they are living their lives outside our home, and how many people they have come in contact with on shopping expeditions etc.

    There are many many articles about the virus living on fabrics! Especially on plastic fabrics [ Velcrose, spandex etc etc etc ] … yet another way Mother Earth is telling us all to quit using plastic products ! The best solution is to alternate wash days, do the first load of sheets and towels in high heat with a bit of chlorax, and then do the second load in cold water for clothes etc. A high heat dry will kill the virus.

  4. I know of one case where a landlord was in the process of evicting some truly scumbag tenants. These people were constantly and consistently behind in rent, making other tenants life a living hell and definitely in need of removal. Well they played the Covid card, even though it is pretty clearly BS in their case and laughed in the landlords face. Sure, they will eventually be evicted after a long and drawn out process, but in the meantime they have stopped paying rent altogether and invested in party “supplies”. Sometimes doing the right thing has negative consequences.

  5. I wonder how the province is “actively looking for community spread”? We have a lot of people working in “essential” services. If they were actively looking, they could test all of them–every grocery store worker, NSLC worker, health service worker, convenience store worker, etc. That would be “actively looking” for community spread and also helping to prevent it. Not sure how the logistics of the testing would go, but public health officials could come in and test workers.They would probably feel better about working there, if they could get tested regularly. Right now, it seems as though the province is just waiting for people to become ill first.

    1. I see Doug Ford exempted “construction workers and engineers” in Ontario’s shut down…. I, I feel suddenly so essential!

  6. It is not as if these are rental payments that are suddenly free, right? Much could simply end up as deferrals (higher rents later to make up, or lump sums), or will be assumed to be covered by a payout (no that cheque is not for partying).
    No landlord has the right to ask if you have a disease, even leprosy. But to qualify for the coverage, you should at least have to prove you lost your job. I mean unless that happens, many won’t pay any rent, and then a significant inequity will be created. As you say, landlords have mortgage payments to meet. In the end, there is a flow of money that has to return to some equilibrium, it doesn’t come from the ether and people not renting are not really interested in subsidizing that industry when they have their own issues to deal with. Disclaimer – not needed – I am neither a tenant or landlord.

    1. I am incredibly curious how the province plans to implement this. How does one define “lost job due to COVID-19”? It seems to me like “more than 10% reduction in earnings during March-onwards” would be a reasonable criteria.

      A blanket ban is simpler, and yes, will be abused, and I feel bad for small landlords, but on the other hand, why should a minority of people be able to own multiple homes and profit, forever, risk free? I get it that a typical small landlord doesn’t really make a big profit until the mortgage is paid, but why should an arrangement where others work to build you equity be risk free? If a bunch of them go bankrupt, I’ll get out my tiny violin. The physical buildings will still exist, and new arrangements will be made.

      Construction workers provide housing, not landlords.

      1. You would be surprised at how many people’s retirement savings is sitting in a building. As I clarified, not mine, but a lot of people choose to own and maintain a rental property instead of an RRSP. Live can be ruined by deadbeats playing the system. Sure, there are bad landlords, but the reason many people think of the word in a negative light is that they are the only ones that ever make the news.

        1. Perhaps. I have no dog in this fight, as although I rent, my job is not impacted by COVID-19 except in the very long term if it causes a severe recession. I think there should be some sort of more rational system, where small landlords have more rights, while giant landlords with hundreds of units have minimal rights. The present system, which allows tenants to get away with a lot, actually benefits large renters, who can absorb the costs of a few shitty renters more easily than someone with one rental unit can.

  7. Cyclists complaining about the provincial order for people to stay off trails and out of parks. Supposedly educated people failing to understand the gravity of the situation. Keeping a minimum distance of 6 feet from another person is impossible on trails. The roads are almost empty, cycle on the road. This country needs to implement the measures taken by China, We have relatives across Europe and in the Middle East, China and Australia and the Chinese response may be regarded as extreme by some people but this pandemic is changing the way we live for a very long tome.

    1. Some of the mixed use paths within HRM allow cyclists to avoid still busy roads, for example those in the Halifax Commons. Drivers seem to be using the excuse of light traffic to drive faster and are not really looking for cyclists or pedestrians as we are supposed to be in our homes most of the time. For some of us without cars, these multi use paths are the safest routes to pharmacies and food stores. Having cyclists or pedestrians injured because they are using local streets with speeding cars and buses does not help the situation especially when there are multi-use paths to keep cyclists and pedestrians off of the streets. The alternative may be to close most streets to anything but local traffic and to keep the streets for cyclists and walkers.

      1. Walk, it may take longer but it is safer for all people. If you fall off a bike or hit a pedestrian or if a pedestrian falls on a trail they may not be noticed as quickly as they would be if out on a sidewalk. Too many people fail to grasp the serous threat this pandemic poses.

    2. Your paragraph ‘ A few seconds passing…’ has no scientific basis. The threat is much greater than you think. A week ago it was widely broadcast that the threat was mainly to older and previously compromised people and we now know that everyone is threatened.
      Walk and reduce the risk. Stay well away from other people, 6-8 feet is not adequate.

      1. ” On Monday, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported that 44 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in the country are the result of community transmission, meaning they have no link to international travel. This means people could contract the virus while visiting friends or buying groceries.

        “You could pick it up at any time, from anybody,” said Michael Gardam, an infection control expert and chief of staff at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital. “That’s why the general strategy of social distancing is so important. Anybody could have it.”

        Dr. Gardam said adherence to requests to stay home is the key to stopping transmission.
        ” “Truthfully, if all of us stayed more than two metres away from each other for 14 days, this thing would stop,” he said.
        https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-nearly-half-of-canadas-covid-19-cases-now-acquired-through-community/

    3. I’m sorry to the poster. I usually let a wide range of opinion play out in the comments, but this comment contained what I consider inaccurate information about social distancing, which, if followed, could impact public health.