News

1. Daily COVID-19 update: Community transmission has arrived

Magnolia residential care home in Enfield. Photo: Facebook

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

We all knew community transmission of COVID-19 was coming. Dr. Strang has said so repeatedly in his daily briefings. But I’ll admit I still felt a chill when I saw the news yesterday.

Tim has the roundup of yesterday’s news here.

The province’s chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Strang, said that there is now at least one case of “community spread.” That’s a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 and who had attended the St. Patrick’s Day party in Lake Echo.

Strang said none of the other attendees at the party has expressed symptoms, and the 14-day period has expired, so Public Health cannot connect the one positive case back to anyone at the party. That person has also not travelled, and was not in close contact with anyone who had travelled. Likewise, none of the other party attendees had travelled. So it’s all a mystery how that person contracted COVID-19, and therefore it’s considered the first case of community spread.

The story also includes news of an outbreak at a seniors’ residence and people targeting a restaurant where a part-time employee tested positive.

On Sunday night, I dropped some groceries off to an elderly neighbour, and we talked for a few minutes (he in his doorway, me a safe distance away — considerably more than six feet). “This really brings out the best and worst in people,” he said. You can see that all over Facebook, a place I am largely trying to avoid these days. If public health says transmission may have occurred at a business, that doesn’t mean the business was careless or recklessly endangering the public. But people are scared, and when they are scared they can be vicious.

While the Halifax Examiner is providing all COVID-19 coverage free, it costs quite a bit. We are entirely funded by subscribers, so if you are finding the coverage helpful, please subscribe if you can.

2. Man dies after being tased by police

Image from www.taser.com

A man is in mental distress. In an effort to get him help, someone calls the police. The police arrive and kill the man. (Or, at the very least, the man dies soon after the police arrive.)

How many times have we heard this story, and how many more times are we going to hear it?

Of course, you’re not going to see words as blunt as these in a police release. You’ll get what we got from the provincial Serious Injury Response Team after Halifax Regional Police tased a man who was harming himself.

From the release:

Police arrived at the scene and entered the dwelling in an effort to ensure his safety. When police attempted to intervene to prevent the man from further harming himself, he became uncooperative. A Conducted Energy Weapon (tazer) was deployed to contain the individual. The man was transported to hospital by EHS where he succumbed to his injuries.

The Halifax Regional Police were quick to point out that it is rash to conclude there might be any connection at all between the fact that the man was tasered by the police and the fact that he died shortly after.

El Jones gets into all this in a powerhouse of an article that I encourage you to read.

The police are not trained mental health workers. They are not doctors, nurses, social workers, paramedics, or any other kind of medical expert. They are not trained in public health. Over and over again, when they have been called by families to help people in crisis, they have responded by harming and even killing the people they are supposed to be helping.

And now, at the very same time as the death of a man who was allegedly self-harming is being investigated, we are supposed to trust that the police are an appropriate response to the public health crisis of COVID-19.

We do not know what happened when the police entered this man’s residence. We do not know yet what is meant by the phrase “the police tried to prevent the man from hurting himself.” We do not know if this intervention was verbal or physical, whether the man was scared, or what is meant by him being “uncooperative.”

What we do know is that the majority of Canadians killed by police are people experiencing mental illness. We know from this that the police are not equipped to handle these situations. We surely know that the solution to self-harm is not to cause further harm by discharging a weapon.

Jones mentions Howard Hyde, who lived with schizophrenia and who died after being tased by police in 2007. An inquiry was called into Hyde’s death, resulting in what’s become known as the Hyde Report.

Jones writes:

The 2010 inquiry ruled that the tasing was not the cause of his death. However, Justice Anne Derrick recommended that “conducted energy weapons (CEWs) should not be used to immobilize emotionally disturbed people unless crisis intervention techniques have failed.”

Despite Derrick’s recommendation, the police have continued to use the weapons on people experiencing mental and emotional crises.

I have been told by people in the mental health system — and I believe them — that the Halifax Regional Police have improved tremendously when it comes to training in non-violent crisis intervention and that there is an increasing number of officers who are knowledgeable about mental health issues and are trained to deal with people in crisis effectively.

The Hyde Report was a decade ago. Someone I know who has a close relative with mental illness says she has raised it with several police officers and almost none of them had heard of it or its recommendations.

Clearly we still have a long, long way to go. Ultimately though, what we need is not more cops better trained in dealing with people in mental distress. We need a large and well-funded team of people who are not cops and who are able to respond to situations like these. And don’t tell me we have it in Mobile Crisis, because we don’t. Mobile Crisis do the best they can, but they do not have the ability to replace the police for calls like this.

Would that be expensive? Sure. But as Tim is fond of saying (and as the pandemic has made clear) we can afford what we want to afford.

3. The food supply is safe

Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

Yvette d’Entremont looks into a question that is, I think it’s safe to say, on almost everyone’s mind: Are we going to run out of food?

Short answer: No.

Slightly longer answer: No, and prices increases won’t be huge, but sales are disappearing.

Researchers at University of Guelph and Dalhousie have produced a report updating the Canada’s Food Price Report for 2020, released in December.

d’Entremont writes:

[Dalhousie University professor Sylvain] Charlebois said the fact that prices are likely to remain more or less as forecast in December is good news for consumers.

“We are still expecting prices to go up by no more than 4% this year. Now that is a little over what I would consider the food inflation sweet spot for Canadians, but it’s not 15 or 20% based on some of the reports I’ve seen in recent days,” Charlebois said.

“It’s not like that at all. In fact, we are expecting food prices to remain under control until the end of this year at least.”

That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges. The update notes the food service industry is “being decimated” by the pandemic as restaurants saw revenues cut almost overnight after they were limited to delivery and pick-up services only.

“We estimate that $40 to $50 billion worth of food is now purchased through food retail. That is a massive amount of food that grocers must sell, in addition to their regular business and new online challenges,” the report notes. “We are expecting to continue to receive reports of empty shelves, but the situation will likely improve.”

d’Entremont is such a solid reporter. Read the whole story.

4. Online learning and internet access

Photo: curriculum.novascotia.ca/

The indefatigable Jennifer Henderson has a piece this morning on what cancelling school til May means for people in the substantial swathes of the province without high-speed internet access:

There are still almost the same number of households waiting for this since March of 2018 when the province put $193 million from an offshore revenue windfall into the NS Internet Investment Trust. It took until February of this year for Develop NS to announce the first round of Projects — $45 million worth of spending. The bulk of this work is being carried out in Colchester and Cumberland counties, and is supposed to be finished at the end of this year. A second round of projects will be launched this summer. Maybe the kids will still be in school? Or not, depending on which of several scenarios you find most realistic.

“Currently, about 70% of homes and businesses have access to high speed internet,” said the February 7,2020 news release from Develop NS. “Today’s announcement means 86% of homes and businesses will have access to the service, close to the goal of achieving more than 95%.”

Read all of her piece, “Classes are cancelled. Now go do your homework” here.

5. Sheree Fitch gets an exemption from the no new podcasts rule

Sheree Fitch

Maybe you’ve seen people joking that one of the downsides of the pandemic is that everyone is launching a podcast.

I’d say one of the exceptions is Sheree Fitch. She’s started a podcast, and good on her.

Joan Baxter interviews Fitch, a celebrated children’s author, about the podcast and what she’s hoping listeners get out of it.

We want to keep it about ten minutes, and it should be kind of like when I go into schools [to read and speak]. I would like to keep the emphasis on poetry and story, with poetic storytelling. And I tell the story behind the story of why I wrote the story, because that shows people that I am not some other-worldly creature; you can use your imagination and when something happens on an ordinary day, it can be an idea for a poem or a story…

It still makes my heart glad to write nonsense, and [it gives me] a lot of joy to recite it. Right now, I was supposed to be at the Ottawa Children’s Verse Fest, and being with classes. And tonight I was supposed to give a reading from the adult book, and tomorrow I was going to do a morning thing at the library. And since I can’t do that in person, it feels good to be storytelling this way.

At the very least, Fitch says, parents can put it on and have her read to the kids.

I don’t know how long I’m going to do this, but the good thing is that once the podcasts are uploaded, then you hope that if parents are really desperate, they can just click and listen to Sleeping Dragons All Around, and they won’t have to read it.

6. ECFH employee likely has COVID-19

Inside the East Coast Forensic Hospital. Photo courtesy Senate of Canada.

Tim reported yesterday that a staffer at the East Coast Forensic Hospital is believed to have contracted COVID-19, and that 20 people currently at the facility aren’t being moved out because of bureaucracy.

He reviews the situation and writes:

In short, 20 people who could immediately be removed from the forensic hospital are still housed there, simply because the provincial bureaucracy is unable to place them in the community.

This morning, Tim has this update:

The East Coast Forensic Hospital is operated by the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

In response to a request for comment, Brendan Elliot, a spokesperson for the NSHA, said via email:

As of today we have had one employee with confirmed COVID-19 in Eastern Zone and three with confirmed COVID-19 in Central Zone. Each of the affected staff and their close contacts (pending testing) is in isolation, out of the workplace.

Our policies direct that any employee experiencing symptoms should not be in the workplace. If they are unwell, they are to stay home, report their symptoms to the employee Occupational Health line, and follow the advice and guidance provided.

We mitigate risk by ensuring employees remain out of the workplace while we perform contact tracing. We also remove other potentially exposed employees from the workplace while the case investigation is underway.

There is no need to alert people to not use a particular facility once the risk is addressed.

The reason we aren’t naming where these employees work is because NSHA staff deserve (and expect) the same privacy as patients.

From a Public Health perspective, we would publicly identify a location if there is a reason to do so as a Public Health intervention — to help identify potential close contacts, people who may have been exposed and need to monitor for symptoms, etc. who couldn’t be identified otherwise.

7. End of the line for the Donkin mine

Cape Breton’s newest generation of coal miners stand outside the first coal to come out of the Donkin Mine on Tuesday, Photo: Stephanie MacDougall

Three years after coal mining returned to Cape Breton, the Donkin mine is shutting down for good, Tom Ayers reports for CBC.

I’ll leave you to your own opinions on opening a coal mine during a climate crisis. The shutdown though, has nothing to do with climate or COVID or crashing prices for coal, mine operator Kameron Coal says. It’s geology. Specifically, multiple roof cave-ins.

Ayers writes:

Paul McEachern, a spokesperson for Kameron Collieries, said the company is disappointed, but the decision is final.

“The company has decided to close the mine,” he said. “I would not want to give a false impression that this is a pause. This a decision to cease operations at the mine.”

No one was injured in the roof falls, but the mine operator was required to follow increasingly strict safety regulations.

The mine opened in 2017 and both the company and the Nova Scotia government have brought in experts from the United States to try to prevent more falls.

About 140 people were employed by the mine and are now out of work.

8. How we got to 800 tests a day

Michael Gorman has an interesting story for CBC on how the QEII Health Sciences microbiology lab has changed the way it works in order to process an ever-increasing number of COVID-19 tests. In the early days of the pandemic (I know, I know, we are still in the early days, but the early days relative to now), they were getting through 200 to 250 tests a day. Gorman notes this is how many tests they used to process in a week.

Now, they have gotten up to 800 in 24 hours.

How did they do it? Gorman writes:

Charles Heinstein, the lab’s technical manager, said staff have completely changed the lab’s approach.

They’ve moved to more of an assembly line-style approach where groups of people focus on specific parts of the process, beginning with the pre-analytical work of receiving, inspecting and logging the samples on through to eventually having them processed and getting results.

The lab has also brought in more people from other labs to help with the volume, in some cases training them for a specific task so they can quickly integrate into the workflow.

The lab is also adding a backshift, and making sure people get rest days.

9. Local mosques take prayers online

The Ummah Masjid Mosque. Photo: Google Street View.

Chris Lambie and Noushin Ziafati have a story in the Chronicle Herald about how local mosques are adapting to the pandemic.

“This is a difficult point. From an Islamic perspective, to have the prayer or the congregation, we should be in the same place. But now, it’s an extraordinary situation. We cannot be in the same place; we cannot harm each other,” said [Imam Wael] Haridy [of the Nova Scotia Islamic Community Centre], noting the NSICC would typically have between 300 to 400 people congregating for Friday prayers at their centre in Bedford.

“We had to find some alternative.”

For Imam Ibrahim Alshanti of the Al-Barakah Masjid in Halifax, that alternative has meant turning on his computer from the confines of his living room to teach a few online classes through Zoom each week, along with a prayer on Friday afternoons.

“It’s weird, but we believe that in every difficulty, there is a blessing,” said Alshanti.

The story also gets into other services and approaches the mosques are taking in these unusual times.


Views

Policing and the pandemic

In the El Jones story I mentioned above,  she mentions an opinion piece in Toronto’s Now. Written by Alexander McClelland, it’s called “We can’t police our way out of a pandemic.”

McClelland, a post-doctoral fellow in criminology at the University of Ottawa, points to increasing reliance on police to enforce public health orders, and asks what we can learn from Canada’s experience with the criminalization of people with HIV:

I’ve studied policing responses to the HIV epidemic and other communicable diseases from the early 1900s to today. I’ve interviewed people across Canada who were prosecuted due to alleged HIV non-disclosure. They were a diverse group, including Black and Indigenous people, gay men, women with histories of street-based sex work and people who live in poverty. One of the main things I found is none of them had any intention to put anyone else at risk. In fact, it was the opposite. They often acted in a manner to protect their partners from potential transmission, such as taking their medications regularly (rendering them non-infectious) or using condoms, or both.

One woman handed her partner a condom prior to sex, which he did not use. Sadly, as a result of Canada’s decision to use the criminal law to manage HIV, she is now a registered sex offender.

The law is a blunt instrument that forces complex life experiences into an easy innocent vs. guilty narrative. But, as the above example shows, life and health are more complex. In a pandemic, something that impacts our collective health, trying to identify and vilify individuals that can be blamed and punished is not the answer.

I can imagine people reading this, throwing up their hands and thinking, “but what are we supposed to do?” and I understand that sentiment.

People are scared and angry. In the community, some are ignoring orders put in place to protect all of us. But McClelland makes the same point Jones has made in her writing on the issue:

We might think COVID-19 impacts everyone equally. But laws designed to punish people in the pandemic will not be applied equally. Police will target marginalized communities. Just look to the numerous police killings of people of colour, homeless people and people with mental health issues.

The most recent Citations Needed podcast refers to a story from last week’s Chicago Sun Times on a man being arrested after entering a police station and coughing. That’s it. That’s the story. He didn’t claim he was sick. He just coughed.

A man allegedly coughed at the front desk staff of a Chicago police station Monday night amid an outbreak of the lethal coronavirus, police say.

Lythel Miller, 52, entered the building about 10:50 p.m. in the 3100 block of West Harrison Street and abruptly coughed in the direction of the crew, Chicago police said in an emailed statement…

Miller left the building but was arrested shortly after.

You should cough into your sleeve. But if you don’t, you should not get arrested for coughing.


Noticed

I’m sorry, I think we’ve got the wrong apocalypse

Publicity still from Night of the Living Dead.

I was quite struck by this Wired piece I read by Laurie Penny yesterday. It’s called “This is not the apocalypse you were looking for.”

In a tweet linking to the story, Penny wrote:

For years, angry young idiots have fantasised about a shit-hits-the-fan collapse of civilisation scenario, where men would be real men again, and women would be grateful.
But in this crisis, our heroes are not soldiers — they are healers and carers.

The apocalypse I grew up with was nuclear war. Every time I’d hear the CBC radio breaking news sting, I figured the bombs were on the way. As the Cold War was winding down, apocalyptic fears of AIDS were ramping up.

Over the last few years, we’ve been inundated with pop culture apocalypses of all kinds, many of the zombie variety. Penny writes:

The same story again and again, somewhere between wish fulfillment and trauma rehearsal, getting us used to the idea that the future was canceled, that someday soon everything would collapse, and there would be nothing left and nothing we could do about it…

Covid-19 changed everything. Suddenly, the immense and frightening upheaval, the cataclysm that means nothing can go back to normal, is here, and it’s so different from what we imagined. I was expecting Half-Life. I was expecting World War Z. I’ve been dressing like I’m in The Matrix since 2003. I was not expecting to be facing this sort of thing in snuggly socks and a dressing gown, thousands of miles from home, trying not to panic and craving a proper cup of tea. This apocalypse is less Danny Boyle and more Douglas Adams.

Penny explores the difference between an apocalypse and a catastrophe, looks at unhelpful stupidity from both capitalists and leftist revolutionaries, and compares our current situation with the apocalyptic fantasies of breaking free from civilization and making it in our own little band led by some tough guy.

Right now, with over a third of the world on some sort of lockdown, with the entire world going through some version of the same crisis at once, we are suddenly frantic to touch one another. It seems more important to reconnect with friends. It seems more important than ever to be sweet and silly. We all know someone who’s stuck in a house by themselves, trying not to go bonkers. We all know someone who’s stuck in a house with someone awful, trying to survive the hotboxing of an already toxic relationships. And many of us, by now, know someone who’s sick.

Shit-hits-the-fan escapism — a big part of the alt-right imaginary — never predicted this.

Interestingly, the Greek words for “apocalypse” and “revelation” are the same. In Greek, the last book in the new testament is called Apokalipsi.


Government

City council is going to attempt to have a “virtual meeting” on Thursday. Details when we get them.


In the harbour

05:30: Morning Caroline, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
11:30: Morning Caroline sails for sea


Footnotes

We did our first order online and pick up at the Superstore this week. Considering how overloaded the system must be it went relatively smoothly. Superstore followed up with a survey that had question after question after question, and asked if we were willing to be contacted for further research.

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. I’m kinda surprised grocery sales, or at least certain grocery sales, haven’t been cancelled already. When all of this started I needed TP (down to my last to rolls). I was amazed that when I found a place that actually had some, it was on 50% off. I guess it was kind of nice, but it also seemed to be a suggestion to buy more. Then this weekend I got groceries and the frozen berry section was covered in signs saying “limit of 2 per person”, yet all the price tags were those Superstore “buy multiple and save” tags. It was a very mixed message.

  2. “The Halifax Regional Police were quick to point out that it is rash to conclude there might be any connection at all between the fact that the man was tazered (sic) by the police and the fact that he died shortly after.”

    There’s lots in the news to be astonished with but this is one that needs to get sorted.

    They simply can’t say this in the age of COVID-19.

    We have agreed in all of the media in the whole of the world that if a person dies WITH Covid-19 then they’ve died FROM Covid-19.

    If this is the logic of life then this man, whatever his preexisting conditions, comorbidities, and current situation when the police arrived, has died FROM being Tasered.

    If we want logic to work the way the police are suggesting, a lot of recent media headlines and ledes need to be seriously adjusted.

    I only wish there was a ‘sarcasm font’ in which I could have written this.

    1. Quite a leap to a conclusion. The police report is vague and the man was ‘self harming’.
      I know that 2 plus to can equal 2. And I know that the report is vague and therefore I and everyone else can only guess what happened.
      Excellent programme on TVO last evening with many retired police officers talking about their experiences and how certain incidents caused PTSD and early retirement. One officer resigned to save her mental health and then her father and two male siblings, all police officers, refused to have contact with her.

    1. You’re right! I missed a few this morning. It appears with a “z” in the police report, so I’ve left that as is.

        1. The Taser was invented by someone named Tom Swift? You couldn’t make this stuff up.

    2. Better that than the far more fun sounding Stoner rifle that seems to be the preference of American cops these days.