Here we go again…

News

1. COVID-19 Update

A sign approaching Burnside on March 23, 2020, reminding drivers about the state of emergency. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

Today’s COVID numbers were just released for Nova Scotia: there are 75 new cases and now 489 known active cases in the province.

That follows an unprecedented 96 new cases and 419 active cases announced Tuesday, and so the province is going into a full 14-day lockdown in an effort to slam the brakes on the fastest spread of coronavirus that Nova Scotia has seen yet.

For a little more than a week, case numbers and restrictions have been escalating. On April 20, the province banned all non-essential travel in and out of the province following a spike in travel-related cases. Three days later, HRM went on full lockdown. Now, as daily numbers have surged, the whole province will follow suit.

What does that mean for the next two weeks? Here are a few of the key takeaways from a myriad of new temporary restrictions the province laid out Tuesday:

  • The Atlantic bubble has shrunk to the household bubble: Nova Scotians can only gather indoors and outdoors with the people they live with. Households of two, however, can gather with up to two others outside their home, but they must be the same two people for this two-week stretch.
  • No unnecessary travel between municipalities. Nova Scotians are also encouraged to stay as close to home as possible when going out for essential goods and services.
  • All schools, public and private, are closed.
  • Restaurants, bars, haircutters, and nonessential retail stores are closed province-wide for in-person service.
  • Indoor fitness facilities are closed across the province now.
  • No visitors or volunteers will be allowed inside long-term care facilities, except for designated care providers. Those living inside these facilities will not be able to visit the community during this period.

Be sure to check out the full set of new restrictions — the tightest the province has seen since this time last year — at this link.

Tim Bousquet’s chart tracking daily new cases in Nova Scotia since the pandemic began last spring. Note the disconcertingly steep spike this April.

Here’s a breakdown of where the 96 cases reported Tuesday were found:

  • 90 – Central Zone
  • 3 – Eastern Zone
  • 2 – Western Zone
  • 1 – Northern Zone

Of the 419 active cases currently in Nova Scotia, eleven are hospitalized, and three of those are in intensive care.

The high number of new cases means Public Health is no longer able to provide information on how they were contracted by the time the release comes out. It’ll take us a little longer to find out how many are related to travel and how many to close contacts.

In his daily COVID-19 update, Tim Bousquet has started breaking down the pandemic news into categories, following suggestions from readers.

Check out his full report from yesterday to find more information about potential exposure locations and advisories (there are, unfortunately, quite a few), testing sites in your area, the demographics and distribution of active cases in this province, an update on variants, and a look at how the vaccination rollout is coming along.

As always, the Examiner is providing all pandemic-related news coverage free. If you wish to help support this kind of reporting, please subscribe or donate. And stay safe!

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2. Council gives developer OK to build buildings already being built

Richmond Yards site on March 31, 2021. Photo: Halifax Examiner

The horse has been put back before the cart.

On Tuesday, Halifax and West Community Council voted unanimously in favour of a development proposal for a massive north end development that’s been under construction for a year and a half now.

Zane Woodford reports:

Known as Richmond Yards, the proposal is for five towers rising out of a shared underground parking garage. The tallest is 30 storeys, or 103.3 metres, tall, containing up to 257 residential units and the others are 13, 12, 10, and eight storeys. There’s also a row of townhouses containing up to eight units. The total residential unit count is 620. There’s also 4,950 square metres of commercial space. The parking garage will contain 550 spaces.

Work on the parking garage began last year, and councillors learned on Tuesday that there was recently a stop-work order placed on the site.

Planner Jennifer Chapman explained that although the development agreement is being considered under old rules, the property is now subject to the Centre Plan, and it allows for some construction without a development permit, just a building permit.

The approval has been a long time coming. Danny Chedrawe and his company, Westwood Developments, first applied to construct a multi-tower building on the property — located between Almon and St Albans streets — back in 2016. Two architects and 14 design changes later, and they’ve got the full green light.

An overhead view of Westwood Developments’ Richmond Yards development. Photo: FBM Architecture, annotated by the Examiner

Although the council vote was unanimous, there were concerns.

The municipality acknowledges a lack of open green space in the area. There will be two open spaces on the property, but they’ll be on private land and in the shade. Then there’s the question of parking. The design will have fewer underground spaces than building residents. Is it laudable or laughable to plan on a less car-oriented Halifax?

And what about affordable housing? Always a hot button issue in developments these days. When Woodford was with the old StarMetro in 2019, he spoke with Danny Chedrawe, owner of Westwood Developments, who promised one of the towers would contain 60 units to be rented at 70% market value.

Check out the full article here.

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3. Dear lab workers, thanks for the testing

Nova Scotians are being encouraged to support lab workers testing for COVID-19 through a “love letter” initiative. The province has the highest per capita rate of testing in the country. Graphic: NSGEU

By my count, this is the fourth Morning File in a row with a heavy focus on pandemic news. I apologize for keeping that streak alive, but I can only play the hand I’m dealt each Wednesday. (I have no idea how Lorne Greene broadcast the war dead on a daily basis.)

But the pandemic isn’t all doom and gloom. I mean, mostly it is, but thankfully we have an uplifting pandemic story from Yvette d’Entremont yesterday.

As case numbers have gone up, so has testing. About 20,000 people were tested for coronavirus on Monday, and the people who process those tests in the lab have been in overdrive, working flat out to complete upwards of 11,000 tests a day. Compare that with the start of the pandemic, when testing capacity was about 200 per day.

As lab workers are pushed harder, the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (spurred on by the suggestion of registered nurse and occasional Examiner contributor, Martha Paynter) has started an initiative to raise morale amongst these essential employees.

“Love Letters for Lab Workers” began late last week “as a way to acknowledge the ‘unprecedented’ number of COVID-19 tests being processed by lab workers on a daily basis, in addition to their regular testing work.” As of Tuesday, 80 letters had been sent online. Unfortunately, lab workers are so overburdened with testing that the union has yet to hear any feedback from them on the letters.

But I’m sure, if they’ve had any time to read any of them, they must make the work a little easier. Just check out an excerpt from one letter that reads:

“Without you many wouldn’t be able to sleep at night, gripped in fear for 2 weeks after even just a possibility of exposure… Thank you for everything you do for the health and mental health of Nova Scotians.”

Or this one from a nurse, showing the impact that this lab work has in helping our healthcare workers fight the virus:

“As a nurse, I thank you for your hard work and efficiency to get swabs done quickly for our patients. As a patient, I thank you for getting these swabs done quickly so we can have lifesaving treatment, to get back to a normal life. You’re behind the scenes, but you are not forgotten about and I cannot express how grateful I am for each and every one of you. Bless you, take good care of yourself, and remember how appreciated you are!”

This story’s a great reminder that, while we have to stay apart for the next little while, it doesn’t mean we can’t stay in touch. In fact, it’s more important than ever we do so. So get in touch with family, friends, and neighbours who might need a little spirit lift during this isolating stretch.

And if you’d like to send your appreciation to a lab worker for their tireless public service, you can do so at the “Love Letters for Lab Workers” page here. These essential workers deserve far more than 80 letters.

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Views

So, we’re back in lockdown

Understandably there’s a lot of frustration and disappointment. It was only a few weeks ago that the Atlantic Bubble seemed primed to reopen. Warmer weather was on its way, cases were low, and vaccinations continued to be rolled out. I think most of us were reasonably hopeful that we had a fairly open summer ahead of us, one full of trips around the Maritimes and reunions with friends and family.

Maybe we felt that, after a year of sacrifice — two waves and two big shutdowns, the decision to lock down over the holidays, the endless mask-wearing, business restrictions, and physical distancing — we’d earned a break. And that break seemed almost inevitable. We were doing better with the virus than most of the country and vaccinations made the finish line feel more real.

Then variants entered the picture, as did travellers who opted out of quarantining, and locals who chose to come into contact with them. Add to that a few illegal house parties and some flouted public health guidelines, and here we are. Back in lockdown with the worst caseload we’ve seen in Nova Scotia during the pandemic.

Throughout the province, we’ve shown a lot of resolve and solidarity over the past year. We’ve accepted austere measures to keep us safe and acknowledged that public health, and the public in general, sometimes make mistakes. And we’ve pushed through.

Last week, the Examiner spoke with epidemiologist Kevin Wilson who remained optimistic we were approaching the end of the pandemic, despite this current spike:

“Realistically, we have done this twice before and we’ve done it in a timescale of weeks rather than months. Being very blunt, being realistic, we’re pretty good at this stuff. And it sucks that we have to do it, but we are able to do this.”

But still, there’s that feeling that we had everything under control, that the worst was behind us here — we were almost there and all we had to do was stay the course. And now we’re worse off than ever.

Here at the Examiner, David Rodenhiser contributed a piece on Friday in which he called for punishment for those who’d ignored the rules and helped spread the virus. It came out before a weekend that saw multiple parties that broke provincial gathering restrictions and led to multiple fines. It also summed up what a lot of us were feeling on an emotional level.

Nova Scotians are rightly furious that the success we sacrificed to build in the fight against COVID 19 has been scuttled by a handful of uncaring narcissists who decided the rules don’t apply to them. And we are properly incensed that the perpetrators face neither charge nor fine. Not even a proper scolding.

The Halifax region is under lockdown, thanks to a recent surge in COVID-19 cases. The apparent root of this rise in the deadly virus was a social gathering involving travelers who refused to quarantine.

He continues:

We wore masks. We kept six feet apart. We followed arrows on the floor. Business owners installed acres of plexiglass. Restaurants shut down tables. They sanitized everything, over and over.

We did everything we were supposed to. We played by the rules. We made Nova Scotia the envy of most of the world.

Little wonder that, as Premier Iain Rankin announced the [April 23 HRM] lockdown, social media blew up with Nova Scotians looking for blood.

And look for blood Nova Scotians did.

Since Rodenhiser’s piece on Friday, there were multiple fines levied against students around the province for breaking gathering limits and holding grad parties over the weekend. There were 22 fines dolled out for one Halifax party alone.

Someone shared a photo of some of those partiers on the subreddit r/Halifax — the now notorious picture (head-scratchingly shared on Snapchat by the perpetrators themselves) of a group of students proudly holding up the tickets they received for breaking restrictions — and the online backlash was plentiful. A lot of it was also incredibly harsh.

Screenshot of a Snapchat in which six students show off the fines they received Saturday for breaking pandemic restrictions. Photo: reddit.com, r/Halifax

Although a lot of commenters simply called these partiers out for their disregard for public safety, and pressured Dalhousie to take action, many of the comments I saw were interested in the long-term destruction of their lives: expulsion from university, putting a black mark on their permanent records that would make applying to jobs or other schools difficult, etc.

A post from reddit commenting on a picture of Halifax partiers. Photo: reddit.com

I mean, I understand the anger. A lot of it’s justified. And I feel some of it myself. But some of these comments call for the release of names. Like throwing a party in a pandemic, I don’t think extending the mob justice of the internet to the real world is particularly responsible either. My former classmate Julian Abraham reported with Sarah Plowman at CTV that these students have already received threats for their actions.

Another post from reddit commenting on that same picture. Photo: reddit.com

These people should face consequences. Because their actions have real consequences on others. First and foremost, people can die. We’ve been lucky to have had a very limited number of casualties since the end of the first wave last year, but increasing numbers and the introduction of variants could change that. It’s incredibly reckless to ignore health and safety precautions just so you can have a good time, no matter how much you miss socializing. Lockdowns also have an emotional toll. We’ve had to cancel meetings with friends and loved ones for the next two weeks, and we’re stuck at home for the most part now. And who knows how hard local businesses will be hit as they’re forced to shut down right as the summer season is starting?

But I couldn’t shake how harsh so many of the comments on this picture were.

Public shaming isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In this case, a lot of it was justified. It might have led Dalhousie to investigate, and it might eventually compel the school to take punitive action.

It may also have pushed the province to increase fines from $1,000 to $2,000 for first-time pandemic rulebreakers.

But a lot of what I saw online was excessive. At its worst, public shaming on social media removes the possibility of redemption. It isn’t satisfied until a person’s reputation has been permanently destroyed. Some commenters even seem to take a little pleasure in imagining their demise. Seeing as the point of public shame is to correct poor behaviour, I think this pile-on method is overkill.

Once again, these were some horribly careless acts void of common sense and regard for public health. Maybe a $1,000 fine isn’t enough to deter students from following restrictions, but does that mean we have to jump straight to a one way ticket out of the province and a permanent stain on their records?

For the most part, Nova Scotians have followed restrictions through the pandemic because we’ve been looking out for one another, not because we’ve been watching each other, waiting to pounce on any wrongdoing we see. Absolutely there need to be penalties for putting public health at risk, especially if perpetrators then double down and boast about their recklessness. But let’s make sure the punishments are proportional to the crime, and schadenfreude and bloodlust stay out of it.

There are more constructive ways to criticize the careless among us and encourage better behaviour:

Stay safe, Nova Scotia.

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Noticed

Last week, before Dr. Strang urged Nova Scotians to get tested in their own communities, I drove into Lower Sackville to get tested with my roommate.

On the drive — which, as it turns out, will be my last out of my community for some time — we passed Lake Pisiquid, where Highway 101 is being twinned and protest signs still hang beside the road.

Protestors — fishermen, members of the Windsor community and local indigenous peoples among them — have been there since last June, urging the province to allow fish passage between the man-made freshwater Lake Pisiquid on the Windsor side of the highway, and the saltwater estuary that connects the Avon River to the saltwater of the Minas Basin and, ultimately, the Bay of Fundy.

 

My roommate had recently been out on a boat with Darrell Porter, so he’d been speaking with him about the controversy at the causeway. I mentioned that Joan Baxter had spoken with Porter for an Examiner article on the issue in December. He was curious, so I read him the whole article, which took up the duration of our trip.

When I encourage people to subscribe to the Examiner, this is the type of reporting I show them. In-depth, comprehensive looks at issues that have real impacts on Nova Scotian communities. 

Without pieces like this, you might pass by the “SAVE OUR FISH” signs and think, oh, just another hippie protest. Or maybe you’d hear offhand that some people want to prevent the aboiteau from being opened to fish because it would drain the lake where the canoe club paddles and Martock gets water for their snow machines. Then you might think this was a simple matter of upper class greed over the environment.

Map of highway twinning project area from Stantec EA registration document

But it’s pieces like this that show the whole picture. The impact the tides would have on farmlands, dykes and irrigation down the river if water was allowed to pass through the causeway unabated, why keeping the aboiteau closed is harmful to fish and those who make their living fishing, whether the aboiteau is even being operated in accordance with the Fisheries Act to allow fish to pass up and down the river safely, and why this all matters to the local environment, economy and community.

Now that travel has been restricted, people won’t be passing by that protest as much, but the issue remains. How will the government square fish passage with the interests of local farmers, sportsmen, townspeople and historical legislation? Last month the aboiteau was opened (after a federal order) to allow fish to pass, but there’s still no long-term solution in place.

The highway project won’t be completed until the end of 2023, so the issue remains. Why not refresh your memory or find out for the first time what all the fuss is about?

It’s a lengthy read, but I know some of us have a little extra time on our hands these next two days. It’s perfect for a rainy day in lockdown. And it’s out from behind the paywall! Check it out and see why the Examiner is worth supporting.

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Government

City

Wednesday

Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm) — virtual meeting

Western Common Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 6:30pm) — livestreamed on YouTube

Thursday

Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Thursday, 11am) — livestreamed on YouTube

Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, ) — livestreamed on YouTube

Province

No meetings


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Safe Space for White Questions (Wednesday, 12:30pm) — a series of free, public, monthly drop-in sessions that are open to all but aimed at people who identify as white and are interested in working toward collective liberation. Come ask the questions about race, racism, social change, and social justice you always wonder about but feel nervous asking. Watch the livestream and past sessions on Youtube.

Linking inter-organelle communication with cholesterol traffic through the endocytic pathway (Wednesday, 4pm) — with Emily Eden from University College of London, via Teams online.
Interlinked


In the harbour

Halifax
10:15: CMA CGM Corte Real, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
12:30: Glovertown Spirit, barge, with Lois, tug, arrives at Cherubini dock from Sydney

Cape Breton
13:30: Rt Hon Paul E Martin, bulker, moves from Coal Pier to Marine Terminal
14:00: Sonangol Huila, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
14:00: Rt Hon Paul E Martin sails for sea
15:00: China Dawn, oil tanker, moves from anchorage to Point Tupper


Footnotes

1- There are two things that you should never underestimate: human ingenuity and human stupidity. Both are limitless and both are found in everyone.

2- I decided to include the photo that was posted to reddit, which blurs the faces of the young partiers, even though they (bafflingly) shared the image themselves first and the unblurred image is all over social media. They’ve been fined and they now face disciplinary action from DAL. I have no interest in circulating their faces for further shaming.

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Ethan Lycan-Lang

Ethan Lycan-Lang is a Morning File regular, and also writes about environmental issues, poverty, justice, and the rights of the unhoused. He's currently on hiatus in the Yukon, writing for the Whitehorse...

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  1. “Be sure to check out the full set of new restrictions — the tightest the province has seen since this time last year…”

    In fact, this week’s restrictions are tighter. While many retail businesses, including mine, closed to in-person shopping–or outright–in the spring of 2020, they were never ordered to do so by the province. They were in fact technically permitted to operate at reduced capacity, even while the province ordered everyone to refrain from non-essential shopping. Guidance remained unchanged for non-essential retail from spring of 2020 until capacity limits were lifted, fairly recently. The current guidelines are preferable because they are less contradictory.

  2. Just came to say that I appreciate the cover photo for today’s morning file. It is not present above, but does appear on the Examiner main page. I think it adds a nice topical focus to the morning file and piques interest.
    Thanks for a good Morning File Ethan.

    1. Thanks, Sigs, that’s a little something I whipped up. Ethan and I were joking about how Strang needed a thought balloon.

  3. At 9:05 a.m. today NS Health sent me an email message reminding me that my booked appointment for a COVID test at 11:05 today at Dartmouth Sportsplex. I arrive 5 minutes before the appointment and security informs me that I have to go to the back of a lineup around the building. I show the appointment notice and she tells me again to go to the lineup. ” No thanks. I’ll come back later’ Dr Strang needs to be clearer about how to get a COVID test and this morning the NS Health website is now proclaiming ‘Appointments not needed’

    1. Yesterday afternoon, I booked an appointment at the Sportsplex for later today and then I heard a few stories about long lines, so last evening I went for a walk. Left my place on Leaman just before 6, walked down to Alderney Gate (where there is rapid testing between noon and 7:00 p.m.). I was checked in by 6:33, out by 6:40, and got my texted negative result at 7:07 p.m. That’s way better than standing in a line for an hour or more after making an appointment.

      You can bet I cancelled that Sportsplex appointment and I won’t make another with the current system. I am more than willing todo my part to keep everyone around me safe, but I don’t stand in long lines for anything (not even a good sale at NoFrills!). I agree with Colin, if Dr Strang wants people to get tested, he needs to fix his broken appointment system and get rapid testing in more areas – like back at the Dartmouth North Community Centre (which is where I would have preferred to get tested).