News

1. COVID-19 update: provincial projections released

The province has released projections for the spread of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, reports Jennifer Henderson from the daily provincial briefing:

Nova Scotia now has over 500 people who have tested positive for COVID-19.

The province released estimates today based on models that show that if compliance with distancing measures and closures remain in place, Nova Scotia could expect to see 1,500 people test positive by June 30. That’s the best-case scenario.

If people do not comply with the restrictive measures that are in place, those numbers more than triple and 6,269 people could be infected with COVID-19 by June 30. These are projections only and do not predict how many people might die because, as the Chief Medical Officer of Health noted, the mortality rate will depend on to what extent the virus gets into long-term care homes where people are most vulnerable.

Henderson goes on with details on the distribution of cases in Nova Scotia (with the highest number by far in Dartmouth), and updated numbers on long term care facilities.

Read the full story here.

2. Cloth masks and silver linings: Q&A with former CDC director Tom Friedan

Dr. Tom Frieden is working from his home office. Photo: Twitter

Jennifer Henderson listens in on a conversation with Tom Friedan, former director of US Centres for Disease Control, who shares thoughts on everything from the future of the pandemic to the viability of serology tests for COVID-19 antibodies. He gives a notably complete and succinct answer on the subject of wearing cloth masks, which has been officially recommended by the CDC, and suggested by Canadian Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam.

“The CDC recommendation was thoughtful and reasonable. It is a judgment call. The reasoning is as follows. In a place with lots of spread, some people will be pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic and therefore potentially spreading the virus. We do know if people who have the virus wear a home-made mask, they are less likely to give it to others. There are some “buts” here. You don’t want to be taking supply away from healthcare workers. You don’t want to be touching your face more because you are sweaty. And you want to make sure it doesn’t give you false confidence to go out because if you are ill, stay home.”

3. Living through Coronavirus: Stories from the African Continent

Citizens of Freetown crowd in for water distribution but wash hands first. Photo: Theophilus Gbenda

Joan Baxter takes inspiration from an essay by the African gender and extractives alliance, WoMin, looking at the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the African continent, which “encounters numerous other crises of climate heating, environmental degradation, unemployment and rising poverty, land grabs and widespread hunger, increased violence, specifically violence against women, and civil conflicts in many countries.”

To help elaborate on the situation, Baxter gives Examiner readers a peek into the perspectives of four friends in different African countries: Mali, Burkina Faso, Kenya, and Sierra Leone, in a four-part series called, “Living through Coronavirus: Stories from the African Continent.” Baxter gives the caveat: “These are not journalistic accounts, just excerpts from personal conversations we’ve had, which provide vignettes on how the COVID-19 crisis is playing out on another continent.”

In Mali, Baxter shares the perspective of Oumou Nomoko, an author and academic living in the capital, Bamako, who is not only concerned about the practical limitations of asking people making a living from day to day to just stay home, but also the cultural limitations of social distancing in a place where community life trumps private life.

Baxter then speaks with Armand Bayala, a filmmaker who lives in Ouagadougou, capital of the West African country of Burkina Faso, where just under 500 cases to date have caused dozens of deaths. Bayala worries about the readiness of Burkina Faso’s health care system, and also the ability of average people to apply the measures that seem to be working in Europe and North America. Bayala tells Baxter,

To me one thing is very clear: here in Africa we don’t have the same realities — the ability to self-isolate and stock supplies – that one has in northern countries. And so our governments should really adapt measures for our context. They should shape measures that suit our realities here, and not just copy and paste. And we need massive testing.

From Nairobi, Kenya, Baxter speaks to Dali Mwagore, an editor, translator, and mother of a 10-year-old. Mwagore tells Baxter that, “every tailor is making masks,” and that testing is also ramping up in Nairobi, but that access to medical care is limited for those who can’t afford private care.

And in Sierra Leone, Baxter connects with Theophilus Gbenda, a journalist who lives in the capital Freetown, where memories of Ebola are “still fresh.” Gbenda describes government-imposed lockdown measures that came into effect after cases starting popping up, but notes that Sierra Rutile mine (where known cases had contact with others) remained in operation during the strictest lockdown measures, which he says was, “an affront to the nation.”

Click here to read the full series, “Living through Coronavirus: Stories from the African Continent“.

4. House sales slow, but lots of people still need real estate services

The “Dollhouse” view of a Dartmouth house for sale, via Matterport 3D, which allows buyers to remotely view houses for sale.

Yvette D’Entremont takes a look into how the real estate industry in Halifax is adapting to COVID-19 prevention measures. Real estate services are not on the essential list, but despite a massive drop in new business, there are still situations where the buying and selling of homes is a pressing concern. Writes D’Entremont:

[Real estate executive Matthew] Honsberger said besides people who need to move because of a job relocation or because they’d previously sold their home, there are other situations that might require a residential real estate transaction.

“There are a whole host of reasons why people move, and need is a different thing for a lot of people. What if you’ve recently divorced or are in a difficult divorce or something like that and have to sell your house so you can both move on with your lives,” Honsberger said.

“It may be well and good to say just wait until the summer for that. Well, I can tell you a lot of the clients I’ve dealt with years ago would say three months in isolation with the person that I’m in the middle of divorcing now is not exactly a comfortable scenario.”

Read the full story here.

5. Calling for immediate action on staffing at long term care homes

Northwood Manor. Photo: novacorpproperties.com.

Advocates for the Care of the Elderly have issued an open letter to the province asking them to reconsider prioritizing solutions for “chronically low staffing levels” in long-term care homes. The letter states:

…we would respectfully suggest that ending the chronically low staffing levels in long-term care should be considered an urgent priority, and not a topic only to be considered later. This has been a key issue for us which we have been raising repeatedly since our organization was established in 2006.

…We are certain that all the major stakeholders in long-term care (government, management, unions, and front-line workers themselves) would be willing to work closely together on an urgent basis to determine the appropriate levels of qualified staff needed in each facility. We again urge your government to immediately plan and implement a special funding initiative to increase the levels of qualified staff in all nursing homes and residential care facilities.

Jennifer Henderson reported yesterday for the Halifax Examiner on the situation in Nova Scotia’s nursing homes:

As the number of COVID-19 infections increases among Nova Scotia nursing homes, so, too, does the number of employees forced to leave work and stay home because of that contact. Riley says over the past two weeks many homes have been reaching out to retirees and hiring replacement workers from the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON), as well as from private agencies such as We Care and Nightingale Nursing. But even with that recruiting, she says, many homes are still working short-handed.

Prior to the outbreak, CUPE’s Long-term Care Committee had launched an online campaign asking citizens to write their MLA and beg for more government funding to increase staffing in nursing homes. “Fully 74% of CUPE members in long-term care report they are working short on a regular basis and 36% are working short each and every day” reads text from the website.

6. Campaigning to release federal prisoners

A group of prison justice advocates called the Abolition Coalition launched a campaign yesterday calling on officials to “release as many federally incarcerated people as possible in order to fight COVID-19,” according to the organization’s media release. Among the Abolition Coalition’s representatives across the country is Examiner writer, poet and community activist El Jones.

The organization’s media release reads:

Two weeks have passed since media outlets reported that Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair asked the heads of Correctional Service Canada (CSC) and the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) to put together a plan to release federal prisoners for consideration. Today, people from across Canada are calling upon Minister Blair to release as many federally incarcerated people as possible in order to fight COVID-19.

Incarcerating people during a pandemic is a threat to public health and community safety. Doctors, public health experts, lawyers, prison scholars and the United Nations have all made clear that release is the best way to prevent spread of COVID-19 both behind and beyond prison walls.

7. Walking across the Common okay, but other city park pathways still a no-no

Pathways on the Halifax Common were flagged off Thursday, and are now open for socially-distanced transportation, but the park remains closed. Photo: Erica Butler

There has been plenty of justified confusion over the legality of walking through the Halifax Common. The Common had been declared closed, along with all municipal and provincial parks, back on March 22nd, by a Provincial order.

But naturally, many people had continued to use the pathways through the Common for active transportation. Not only is it a more direct route, but there is more room to spread out in order to maintain 2 metres of physical distance from other people. But according to provincial order, and according to the police, using the internal park paths instead of the sidewalks around the park was a ticketable offense. At some point early last week, the pathways were taped off with police tape, presumably to clear up any confusion on the part of the people still using them.

Last week, after my neighbourhood pathway was also taped off, I raised the issue of park pathways on Twitter and in the Views section of Morning File, asking in particular why through-paths, like one in my neighbourhood park and those in the Halifax Common, had been taped off, and making the case for re-opening these active transportation connections throughout the city. Several councillors chimed in to explain that the park was closed by provincial order, and the matter was out of their hands.

Then, on Thursday, city staff quietly flagged off the pathways through the Common. That happened to be the same day that Tim Cleveland, a local cook and brother of city planning consultant and commentator Tristan Cleveland, got a ticket for walking through the Common on his way to work. While city staff had flagged the pathways to appear to invite use, the recently installed police tape remained in place. It was not clear what the heck was going on.

But despite Cleveland’s ticket, the paths through the Common are open, says HRM spokesperson Brynn Budden. “The paths that are flagged on the Halifax Common are open as pedestrian sidewalks and are meant to be used as a thoroughfare,” Budden clarified by email, adding a reminder that, “people are not permitted to gather on the paths, or travel on any of the surrounding greenspace.”

I checked in with Constable John MacLeod, the spokesperson for Halifax Regional Police, to confirm that they were on the same page as city staff, and to ask how many tickets had been issued while the paths were both open and closed. MacLeod replied by email,

We had issued a ticket in that location, however that was prior to the current situation where some pathways have been opened. We continue to work with the province and municipality to remain aligned as these changes occur. There is a process in place that anyone is welcome to follow should they wish to contest a summary offence ticket.

MacLeod didn’t outline the police interpretation of the rule, directing me instead to the province and municipality for details on the order in place. “Our overall approach is that our response starts with a conversation and education, and it’s followed by enforcement if necessary,” wrote MacLeod.

I also checked in with the province’s COVID-19 media line on the matter, and Shannon Kerr replied with this emailed statement, seemingly placing responsibility for city parks with the city:

All provincial parks, beaches, and tourist attractions are closed, including any trails or paths located within them. Where the Halifax Common is owned by HRM, questions related to their property are best directed to the municipality.

So go ahead, walk through the Halifax Common. But as for any of the other active transportation connector pathways through parks in the city, they are still closed, according to Budden: “[The Common paths] are the only paths that have been flagged and opened as a thoroughfare.”

7. City council approves short term relief, gives a glimpse of revenue losses

Photo: Halifax Examiner

According to Zane Woodford, tweeting for Saltwire, at Halifax council’s remote meeting Tuesday, the gang passed a temporary relief package meant to help see taxpayers through COVID-19 induced hard times. The measures include a short term deferral of property tax instalments, from April 30 to June 1, a cut in the interest rate charged overdue tax accounts from 15% to 10%, and the temporary pausing of NSF fees for bounced payments.

In case you don’t have a calendar handy, the proposed tax deferral is for roughly 4 weeks, an extremely short term solution. This could be because they are waiting on a province-wide, and provincially-backed tax deferral program currently being pitched by the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, according to the staff presentation. The province-wide deferral program would extend tax deferrals uniformly across the province to October, and allow for a two-year payback period, with the province loaning municipalities to money to tide them over. One of the economic issues with deferred costs for residents and businesses is that is may simply delay the impact of the COVID-19 shutdown, and not actually remedy it.

The cost to HRM of the small measures approved Tuesday is estimated to be about $350,000 by June 1, and then over $2 million annually. That’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of revenue shortfall for the municipality. This table is from the Financial Implications section of today’s staff report on tax relief:


Noticed

I’ve come across this site a couple of times online now, and its worth pointing to if you are interested in different ways of looking at the data flowing daily on COVID-19 cases in Canada and the world. Here’s a screenshot the reported cases for just Canada’s smaller provinces, to give us a better look at where we are. (If you include BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, the rest of the lines get scaled too small to inspect properly.)

Here’s the explanation from the chart owners on how it’s constructed:

This interactive charts the new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the past week vs. the total confirmed cases to date. When plotted in this way, exponential growth is represented as a straight line that slopes upwards. Notice that almost all countries follow a very similar path of exponential growth.

(If you check out the live chart, you can watch the animation of the lines over time, and there’s also a thorough video explanation of the choices made in constructing the chart.)

This particular chart shows most small provinces dropping off the exponential growth path, dramatically. Nova Scotia, on the other hand, appears to be not quite stuck on an upward trajectory, but not quite taking the desired dive off the cliff. (It’s worth noting that our growth rate for new cases is dropping, just not fast enough for a dramatic shift.)


Government

City

Nothing scheduled for today.

Province

No meetings.


In the harbour

05:30: Centaurus Leader, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Boston
6:45: CMA CGM A. Lincoln, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for sea
08:30: Maersk Maker, offshore supply ship, arrives at Pier 9 from St. John’s
11:00: JPO Aries, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Lisbon, Portugal
11:30: Centaurus Leader sails for sea
16:00: Lagarfoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Argentia, Newfoundland
16:30: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
22:00: Lagarfoss sails for Portland


Footnotes

Thinking of pitching this new COVID catchphrase to Dr. Strang: Act positive, stay negative.

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6 Comments

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  1. It is irresponsible of journalists in this province not to be asking this government exactly WTF is going on, on an hourly basis, with their worst case scenario of covid-19. That scenario said the need for 56 hospital beds and 29 ICU beds in the entire province would cause our healthcare system to be overwhelmed. That is so completely unacceptable it is mind boggling to me that it hasn’t become the only fucking thing we are talking about.

  2. I think it’s misleading to tell us that no other “active transportation connector pathways” are open beside those now allowed through the Halifax Common. The harbourwallk which connects the two ferry terminals in Dartmouth has remained open to people and it is my understanding that one can still legally do a circuit of Lake Banook although not all of that route is “city sidewalk”. Always, of coure, maintaining our distance. Which, by the way, should actually be significantly more than two metres when passing or being passed by runners or others moving fast, like cyclists or people using mobility devices, or, sadly, even in windy conditions.

    1. Correct. Deliberately misleading. CFO Fraser didn’t want to talk about reduced costs yesterday, she said the information would not be available until next month. HRM was headed for a massive surplus after they sold the St Pat school site for $37 million and the Deed Transfer Tax revenue was hitting all time highs. Whitman prodded her about savings from lower prices of fuel, other than that question the rest of council were mute on the issue of reduced costs.

    2. The Dartmouth Common is locked down. The paved pathways are 9 feet wide and therefore it is impossible for a pedestrian to walk through at a safe distance from another person or a jogger or a cyclist.
      The 6 feet distance is inadequate, I endeavour to stay 10 feet away.
      Tim has been complaining about the danger to construction workers in downtown, I guess he means the workers who installed the raised bike lane on Lower Water Street; the project expense was approved by council yesterday based on a misleading staff report which failed to mention the work was almost complete – here is a photo from April 12 : https://urbanhalifax.tumblr.com/
      I don’t know why staff feel they need to mislead the council and the public. I notice the report is not signed by the city solicitor.

  3. The monthly revenue loss for HRM, on its own, is misleading because it does not take into account expenditure reductions. Thus, it really tells us nothing about the state of HRM’s finances as a consequence of COVID-19.