Nova Scotia premier-designate Tim Houston speaks at a COVID-19 briefing in Halifax on Monday. — Photo: Zane Woodford

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Jump to sections in this article:
Back-to-school
Phase 5 of reopening
Overview
Vaccination
Demographics
Testing
Potential exposure advisories

Back-to-school

With the return to school this September, Nova Scotia students will mostly see a return to normal.

And the province as a whole isn’t far behind, with a tentative plan to enter Phase 5 of the reopening plan, lifting nearly all restrictions except border measures and “those related to management of COVID-19 cases,” on Sept. 15.

The provincial government released its back-to-school plan and a more detailed outlook of Phase 5 on Monday, marking premier-designate Tim Houston’s first news conference with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang.

“Part of life returning to some semblance of normal means a return to school,” Houston said.

The back to school plan details a return to pre-pandemic schooling. That includes, per the news release:

  • full in-class learning with the associated academic, social and emotional supports
  • continued use of outdoor learning, small-group instruction, and enhanced use of technology
  • full resumption of music classes, band, sports, use of cafeterias, lockers and cubbies, extra-curricular activities and community use of gyms, following core public health measures
  • ongoing inspections and maintenance of school ventilation systems
  • school counsellors, SchoolsPlus staff, and others will continue to provide timely and appropriate mental health supports to students
  • schools will create supportive environments for those who choose to wear a mask once the province enters Phase 5
  • non-essential visitors will be permitted (following all safety protocols), although virtual meetings and visits are still encouraged
  • parents and guardians of pre-primary and Primary students will be able to visit schools on their child’s first day

Masks will still be mandatory in schools and on school buses until Phase 5 begins. After that, masks will be optional, and schools will be asked to “foster an environment where mask-wearing is accepted and normalized for those who choose to wear masks in situations where it is not required.”

If there is an uptick in cases, “learning from home will look similar to the approach used in 2020-21.”

Asked whether the province considered mandating vaccination or testing among teachers, as other provinces have done, Houston and Strang said it wasn’t necessary in Nova Scotia given the epidemiology and vaccination rates. Strang noted vaccine uptake among people over 35 years old is high.

“The vast majority of teachers are in that age cohort, so I don’t think we have a huge amount of unvaccinated teachers out there,” he said.

In a news release, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union welcomed the release of the plan and acknowledged Houston’s communication.

“I’ve already had one discussion with Mr. Houston since the election and I’m very optimistic about his proactive approach to engaging with Nova Scotia’s teachers and education specialists,” NSTU President Paul Wozney said in the release.

The release said the NSTU supports masking requirements, and “will be consulting with members about other aspects of the plan over the coming days.”


Phase 5 of reopening

Phase 5 for the province means the end to nearly all restrictions, including masks and gathering limits. The plan, assuming Nova Scotia reaches its threshold of 75% of the population with two doses of vaccine, is to move to that final phase on Sept. 15.

“Masking, physical distancing and gathering limits will no longer be necessary,” Strang said.

“I’m sure there are mixed views on this. Some will be thrilled to get rid of masks and others will be nervous to stop wearing them. That’s totally normal. It’s time to start living more with COVID. Even if we see rising case numbers that would’ve previously meant province-wide restrictions, our vaccine coverage means that we can carry on with only border restrictions, and maybe if necessary, targeted local restrictions.”

Symptomatic testing for COVID-19, and the associated rules around isolation, will remain in place.

Nova Scotia’s border policy will also remain in place, including isolation based on vaccination status and testing for people coming from outside Atlantic Canada. Strang said that policy would likely remain in place “through the fall.”

That policy will also apply to people coming from New Brunswick, as of 8am Wednesday, due to the recent spike in cases in that province. People frequently crossing the New Brunswick border, like students and workers, will be exempt.

That means people coming in from New Brunswick who have had two doses of vaccine won’t have to isolate, those with one dose will have to isolate for one week, and unvaccinated people will have to isolate for two weeks.

It’s not for everyone,” Houston said. “Those that are fully vaccinated, it’s business as usual. But for those that are unvaccinated, there’s restrictions.”

Houston said he spoke to New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs and the two are on the same page.

Also with Phase 5, the province is going to start scaling back asymptomatic and rapid testing.

“High vaccination rates and low case numbers means we won’t need to focus on general asymptomatic testing, so we will begin eliminating that option,” Strang said.

Testing will still be available for travellers and contacts of confirmed cases, and Strang said rapid testing will still be used in some workplaces.

Asked whether the state of emergency in Nova Scotia will remain in place after Sept. 15, Houston seemed to suggest it would, but offered no commitments.

“Just being in a state of emergency has a number of implications,” he said. “Obviously, it gives some some authority around border controls, it gives some some authority to make some public health decisions.”

The state of emergency also keeps temporary rent control of 2% in place. Houston said he’s not considering keeping it.

I don’t believe that rent control is a solution to the housing crisis,” Houston said.

Houston said after he names his cabinet on Aug. 31, he’ll get to work with the appropriate minister and the commission struck under the last government to address the housing crisis.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not concerned about it. I think every Nova Scotia is concerned about it,” he said. “But at the same time, we have to have real solutions. We have a housing crisis. We have to address it, and that’s going to take some time.”

Houston was asked whether he condemns last week’s police action around the eviction of unhoused people from city parks.

I don’t think anyone wants to see violence on on either side, and law enforcement is doing their job. They’re doing what they were asked to do,” he said. “The bigger question for me is how do we get to the point? We have tent cities in downtown Halifax and we didn’t have those eight years ago. So how did we get there?”

Asked whether he has public health concerns around the use of pepper spray on a city street, Strang wouldn’t comment.

But I would say that we need to step back and look at how we do things moving forward, understanding there’s there’s reasons why people are out on the street without any homes,” he said.

“How do we work together to build solutions to understand that they’re going to work for people? And if people are saying the solutions that are given to them are not going to work for them, then we need to understand what is going to work for them and work collectively across communities to try to get those solutions in place.”

Aside from somehow increasing housing supply at a time when Halifax Regional Municipality is approving more units than ever, Houston was unable to name any short- or long-term solutions.

New cases

Additionally, the province announced 17 new cases of COVID-19 over the past three days, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Eleven of the new cases are in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone — six are related to travel and five are close contacts of previously reported cases.

Four of the new cases are in the Northern Zone and are close contacts of previously reported cases.

Two of the new cases are in the Western Zone and are related to travel. .

Most of the other usual daily data we provide in these updates — the demographics of new cases, the number of active cases, recoveries, hospitalizations, deaths, and vaccine distribution — were not available today.


Vaccination

Vaccination data were not available today.

This afternoon, Mount Saint Vincent University announced that “all students, faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible and by October 13 at the latest. Proof of vaccination will be required. Those who choose not to be vaccinated for medical, religious or cultural reasons must be tested for COVID-19 twice a week.”

Most of the drop-in vaccination clinics have closed, but there are three drop-in vaccination clinics this week — at Parrsboro Regional High School, Pugwash District High School, and Advocate District School — perhaps indicating where vaccination rates are lagging. You can find dates and times here.

Also, Strang said today that the number of pharmacy-based vaccination clinics is being reduced, although there were still be seven-days-a-week availability in all communities.

People 12 years old and older can also book a vaccination appointment here.

People in rural areas who need transportation to a vaccination appointment should contact Rural Rides, which will get you there and back home for just $5. You need to book the ride 24 hours ahead of time.


Demographics

No demographic data are available today.


Testing

Nova Scotia Health labs completed 2,978 tests on Friday, 3,123 tests on Saturday, and 2,434 tests on Sunday. This does not include the antigen testing administered at the pop-up testing sites. Strang said today that the province will soon be ending widespread testing of asymptomatic people, but there will still be testing of asymptomatic travellers and targeted testing at worksites.

You do not need a health card to get tested.

Pop-up testing (antigen testing) is for asymptomatic people over 16 who have not been to the potential COVID exposure sites (see map below); results usually within 20 minutes. Pop-up testing has been scheduled for the following sites:

Monday
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Cole Harbour legion, 11:30am-7pm
Mount Uniacke Legion, 11:30am-7pm

Tuesday
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Cole Harbour legion, 11:30am-7pm
Mount Uniacke Legion, 11:30am-7pm

Wednesday
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Alderney Gate, 10am-2pm
Dartmouth Summer Sunshine Series, 6-8pm
Cole Harbour legion, 11:30am-7pm
Bedford Legion, 11:30am-7pm

Thursday
Halifax Convention Centre, noon-7pm
Alderney Gate, 10am-2pm
Cole Harbour legion, 11:30am-7pm
Bedford Legion, 11:30am-7pm

Friday
Cole Harbour legion, 11:30am-7pm
Bedford Legion, 11:30am-7pm

You can volunteer to work at the pop-up testing sites here or here. No medical experience is necessary.

You can also get PCR testing at the Nova Scotia Health labs by going here. Appointments can be made for the IWK, or for various locations in each of the health zones (appointments may not be available at each site).


Potential exposure advisories

Nova Scotia Health issued quite a few potential COVID exposure advisories over the weekend.

We’ve collected all the active advisories for potential COVID exposures on bus routes and flights here.

The updated potential COVID exposure advisory map is below; you can zoom in and click on the coronavirus icons to get information about each site.


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Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

Tim Bousquet

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

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5 Comments

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  1. I was very pleased to see the reporters in the room holding Mr. Houston’s feet to the fire with regards to the housing crisis; wanting to increase housing stock as a way to attack the root cause of the crisis makes sense to me at least conceptually, but with the way things are right now in Halifax, not having a short-term fix kind of feels like treating a person’s cancer while they’re about to expire from dehydration.

  2. I have never voted Conservative but I was impressed with him today. He is definitely not camera shy at all. I hope he does well because the next four years we will be miserable. He has shown today at least he will follow public health protocol which is important to some. I want to know more I was disappointed that we did not hear about the teachers who are teaching 12 and under? If you are a Parent of a 9 year you need to know your child has at least a teacher who is vaccinated or am I being over protective?

    1. No. You have the correct attitude. Ask away ad don’t give up. Public sector employees are working for you, your children and the rest of us.

    1. Reporters were never identified in pre-COVID scrums, which were usually held outside the legislative chamber as the ministers were leaving. We’d just bombard the ministers with questions, no organization at all to it. With COVID came a limited number of reporters in the briefing room, and at first it was still a free-for-all. Then they brought in the telephones, with no reporters in the room at all, and it was necessary to name the reporter to know who was next with a question. Today’s briefing was the start of the return to the old ways of doing things.