News

1. COVID update

Photo: Jeremy Bezanger / Unsplash

This item is written by Tim Bousquet.

Yesterday, the provincial Department of Health and Wellness released the COVID Epidemiologic Summary for the month of July.

The death counts are somewhat confusing, with this caveat written into the summary:

Deaths are subject to a lag in reporting. The number of deaths reported in the current and previous months should be interpreted with caution.

The table that lists PCR positive results, hospitalizations, and deaths says that there were just nine deaths in July, compared to 20 in June. But in June, the same table listed 15 deaths for June. So, a moving and changing subject.

To add to the confusion, there are two other charts in the summary, listing total COVID deaths from March 1 to July 31. The first chart, which lists death by age group, reports 214 deaths for that period. But the second chart, which lists deaths by vaccination status, reports 212 deaths for that period. Either way, however, both charts agree that there were 16 newly reported deaths in July, which is seven more deaths than the previous chart. Interpret with caution, indeed.

In the period from March 1-July 31, the youngest person to die from COVID was 42 years old, and the oldest was 104. The median age of deaths was 83.

Also from March 1-July 31, there were 1,136 people hospitalized because of COVID, ranging in age from 0 to 103, with the median age of 73. The average length of hospitalization was 6.3 days. I don’t know how deaths or ICU stays factor into that.

The table above shows hospitalization and death rates by age group, from March 1, 2022 to July 31, 2022, which is deemed Wave 6. Some hospitalization data are missing because, remarkably, they didn’t know how old some of those hospitalized were.

The table below shows the age-adjusted hospitalization and death rates by vaccine status, March 1, 2022 to July 31, 2022, which again is Wave 6. Same note about hospitalization data as above.

“Person-years” means the number of people over a set period of time. So, if you study 100 people over one year, there are 100 person-years, and if you study 10 people over 10 years, there are also 100 person years. In this case, the people are being studied over four months (March 31-July 31), and the “crude rate” is the number of people who were hospitalized or died in each category, per 100,000 in each vaccination status.

“Age-adjusted” recognizes that Nova Scotia’s population skews elderly and is better vaccinated than other jurisdictions in Canada, so to make meaningful comparisons, the data reflect what the rate would be if Nova Scotia reflected the “standard” Canadian age and vaccination distribution.

Because PCR testing is limited both by age group and geographically, the new case figures are not terribly reliable — those who tested positive with only the rapid take-home tests or who didn’t test at all are not included in these figures. But with that caveat, there were 8,650 people who tested positive for COVID with a PCR test in July, compared to 7,570 in June. From March 1-July 31 there were 70,440 positive PCR tests (some people may have tested positive twice over that period). Those who tested positive ranged in age from 0 to 110, with a median age of 45.

The table below shows the “confirmed and probable” COVID cases — but only as determined through PCR tests — and their outcomes, for the period March 1-July 31:

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2. Black t-shirts telling Black stories

Cedric Smiley sells ‘STAY STRONG. STAY BLACK.’ t-shirts at the 2022 New Glasgow Black Gala Homecoming vendors market. Photo: Matthew Byard.

Matthew Byard was at the New Glasgow Black Gala Homecoming this week where he reports on a new business trying to promote Black culture in Nova Scotia one t-shirt at a time.

Cedric Smiley and his family moved from Arizona at the start of the pandemic, and found a business opportunity in the Black history of this province. Here’s what he told Byard:

I come here and find out, ‘Oh, Rosa Parks wasn’t the end-all-be-all. You heard of Viola Desmond?’ It excited me like nobody’s business.

I got a chance to meet Viola’s sister, Miss Wanda, I shared the concept with her, she said she would be supportive of our idea. I told her everyone in America should have a Viola Desmond ten dollar bill, she said, ‘How do we make that happen.’

He started spreading the word by designing t-shirts that highlight Desmond’s story, as well as others.

Byard speaks with him about the inspiration for his new brand, as well as what’s coming up at the Halifax Waterfront later this month: a pop-up event for Black vendors led by the Black Business Initiative (BBI).

Click here to read the full story.

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3. New glyphosate spraying announced

Aerial application of glyphosate. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Forest Service.

Nova Scotia’s Department of Environment and Climate Change put out a release Friday saying three new approvals for pesticide spraying have been issued. The new approvals will cover 2,306 hectares and use aerial spraying of glyphosate-based products.

The approval holders are ARF Enterprises Inc, JD Irving Ltd, and Wagner Forest NS Ltd. They will be added to three previously authorized sprayings in Nova Scotia Power’s “utility corridor” and CN’s rail line. All approvals can be found here.

The timeframe for spraying started on Monday and is expected to continue until September 30, though approvals don’t expire until December 31.

The Examiner has looked at the dangers of glyphosate-based spraying before. A 2020 article written by Joan Baxter explores the carcinogenic risks of the product:

A peer-reviewed study published last year showed that people exposed to glyphosate-based herbicides have an elevated risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and for those with the greatest exposure to the herbicide the risk increases by 41%.

Glyphosate is the weed-killer that the giant and controversial agrochemical and biotech company Monsanto put on the market in 1974 under the name “Roundup,” and then complemented 20 years later with its genetically modified “Roundup Ready” crops that could be sprayed with the herbicide because they had been genetically engineered to withstand it. 

Since then, glyphosate has become a common ingredient in herbicides produced by many agrochemical companies. 

In 2018 the German giant, Bayer, acquired Monsanto in a US$ 62.5 billion deal. 

Bayer found itself facing tens of thousands of lawsuits in the United States, where claimants said that the glyphosate in Roundup was a contributing factor to their cancer. Bayer has agreed to pay more than US$10 billion to resolve the claims in the United States, but has not admitted wrongdoing.

According to the Western Producer, as of June (2020) more than 500 Canadians, mostly in western provinces and from farming communities, were also pursuing legal action against Bayer. 

None of this seems to be on any provincial radar in Nova Scotia, where glyphosate spraying continues unabated, with unquestioning provincial approval. 

Nova Scotia Environment (as it was then named) did not respond for comment at the time.

Interested in reading more? Check out that story, which examines a cancer patient’s concerns over glyphosate spraying, as well as Baxter’s story on community efforts to stop spraying on the North Mountain in Annapolis County back in 2020.

Linda Pannozzo also went into detail on the dangers of glyphosate for the Examiner back in 2016. You can read that here.

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4. Protest near Eisner Cove development in Dartmouth turns dangerous

Residents at Eisners Cove. Photo: Lil MacPherson

In yesterday’s Morning File, the Examiner reported on a protest that had been set up Sunday night to prevent logging equipment from clearing trees at the site of the proposed fast-track development in Eisner Cove in Dartmouth.

(In July, Zane Woodford had reported that Clayton Developments applied to “enable early tree removal and earthworks” at two of its special planning areas in Dartmouth, including the Eisner Cove lands).

Now, as Alex Cooke and Alicia Draus at Global report, that protest has turned ugly.

Clearcutting efforts in the area were temporarily on hold Monday as some protesters took their efforts to new lengths.

That morning, Jacob Fillmore used a bicycle lock to attach himself to a piece of equipment before crews could come and operate it.

“I just thought that it’s important for me to do what I can to stop this machine from returning and devastating the forest, and this is the best I could come up with,” Fillmore told Global News.

But the protest didn’t go as planned. While the logging crews initially put their work on pause, by early afternoon some crew members started up nearby machinery and began taking down trees.

That’s when protesters say things took a dangerous turn. A video sent to Global News shows crews nearly running over a protester who stood in front of a moving machine before they were pulled to safety by a security officer.

Fillmore was almost run over after he unchained himself and climbed over a machine while it was in use. Work on the site stopped for the day shortly after and protestors will continue to camp out on the land.

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Views

Back to school, back to masks?

Masked students walk across the UPEI campus, where masks are mandatory for the fall semester. Photo: UPEI

School’s almost back, and so are mask mandates in the classroom. Or at least in some classrooms.

As of this morning, public schools won’t require masks indoors. Neither will three university campuses in this province.

The mask debate in public schools is its own kettle of fish. Unlike university-aged students, pretty well all school-aged children have to go to elementary, middle, and high schools. They don’t really have the option to take gap years or join the workforce. They’re also required to attend more classes than university students, and stay in the building the majority of the time. The most important distinction, though: the spread of COVID in those hallways not only affects students and staff, it can upend family life, keeping parents home from work. Considering the latest COVID numbers and the delays in health care and vaccinations across the province, perhaps there’s a strong argument kids in grade schools should still mask up, painful as it is that young children have never experienced a normal classroom.

What about universities though?

In Nova Scotia, the province has left the answer to the mask question up to college administrations. Only three universities are preparing to enter the fall semester with masks “strongly encouraged.”

After Dalhousie and St. FX opted to bring back masks earlier this month, only Acadia, Saint Mary’s, and Cape Breton University have held out.

It’s hard to blame them for wanting to return to a fully normal university experience.

In a recent report on universities and masking, Jesse Thomas at CTV spoke with Dalhousie student Sam Peapell about his school’s newly announced mandate.

“To some degree, I see it as a setback,” Peapell said. “Me and most of my friends thought we were passed that.”

“The majority of my university life has been spent under a pandemic.”

For the most part, that’s meant a lot of online classes and limited extracurriculars for the same price as the standard university experience.

I was lucky enough to graduate just as the world shut down, so I didn’t have to experience university life “under a pandemic” for more than three weeks. I did have to enter the job market at a time of layoffs and increased uncertainty, but that’s beside the point.

Until the middle of March 2020, I was on the King’s College campus Monday to Friday, nine to five. I had classes that didn’t require an unmute button or a Slack channel to ask questions. I could check in with professors in person at an actual office, floating ideas without the time-consuming formality of email chains. I could talk with classmates about school, work, and social life just by swivelling my chair; no need to set up a Zoom meeting or text someone I’d only ever seen in pixel form. I also had access to a high-tech studio and lab equipment that I could — and did — play around with for hours each day.

Then everything went online and I lost my social life, most of my school resources, and my discipline. I finished my final term project, an audio documentary that I submitted as an outline since I couldn’t use the school’s studio or equipment to produce a finished piece. Then I took my piece of paper, forgot about my far more important cancelled internship, and got out of there.

I likely would have taken a break from school if I’d had to do a whole semester.

The lost experience of those who did stick it out for their degrees in the pandemic is summed up pretty well in a January report from the Globe and Mail. It looked at the widespread return to in-person classes this past winter:

Gabby Glasier, a fourth year political science student at Western University, has only a few months remaining before she graduates. Most of her time at university has been spent under the pandemic’s cloud. She said by looking at her transcript it’s easy to tell when classes switched online, because there’s a divot where her otherwise solid grades suddenly take a dip.

“I’m a good student, I’m diligent, I do the readings, but online just didn’t work for me,” Ms. Glasier said.

She said the year spent learning in isolation through her computer was difficult. The energy that comes from being around fellow students was absent, and she felt that absence. It was nothing like the university experience she expected.

It’s hard to get to know classmates and make friends in an online chat, she said. It’s hard to make an impression with professors, which has complicated getting good references for graduate school. She’s praying that her university will be able to resume in-person classes by February, as planned.

“It’s the last semester of my undergrad. It would be really sad to go out online,” she said.

She added that it’s hard to judge whether she has learned less than she would have otherwise, but that she can’t help but feel shortchanged by the experience.

If I were still a student right now, I’d be upset by a mask mandate. All I’d want to do is return to freely roaming campus without the slight inconvenience of carrying around a mask, and seeing everyone’s face as I did.

But I’d be devastated if campus shut down and classes moved online again. I’d gladly wear a mask, which students probably should do regardless considering current COVID numbers, if it lessened the risk of returning to virtual school.

Tuition wasn’t slashed at any Canadian university to account for the loss of in-person services at the start of the pandemic. Multiple schools released statements that the transition and implementation of new technology to deliver classes cost too much to lower the price of enrolment. Even so, with the infrastructure in place to return to online classes, I doubt many schools would cut the cost if they returned to that stay-home model. I’d take my money elsewhere if things went back.

That’s just from the student perspective.

Faculty and staff at schools without mask mandates, many of whom are older and more susceptible to the risks of COVID, now have to worry more about getting the virus when they go into work. They’ll be in close contact with students who will no doubt continue to live messy, unmasked social lives off campus. Here in Wolfville, where I’m based, Acadia’s Faculty Association has said “it supports a mandatory masking policy for classrooms and continues to advocate for Acadia to update its masking policy” for this very reason.

But unless the province mandates Acadia and the other remaining universities to mask up, it’s unlikely they will before students return.

For instance, on Monday Saltwire reported Cape Breton University won’t bring back masks without government guidance.

“At this time, Cape Breton University does not have any COVID-19-related mandates in place,” CBU spokesperson Jill Ellsworth told Saltwire reporter Ian Nathanson in an emailed statement. “As we have throughout the pandemic, CBU continues to align with (the province’s) public health. Vaccinations and masking are recommended on campus and social distancing is still encouraged wherever possible.

“We continue to monitor the situation closely and are prepared to adjust our approach should the need arise.”

Why CBU felt it was important to give students the choice, they don’t say. For them, and the other two universities without mask mandates, it’s unclear why they’re doing away with masks when they risk campus closures and reduced services for students.

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Noticed

TV news takes another hit

Lisa LaFlamme, anchor and senior editor for CTV’s national news broadcast, was let go by Bell Media yesterday.

“Recognizing changing viewer habits, CTV recently advised LaFlamme that it had made the business decision to move its acclaimed news show, CTV National News, and the role of its Chief News Anchor in a different direction,” read a Bell Media statement announcing the decision.

Nothing like being “advised” you’ve lost your job.

Social media exploded over the news. (There are reports that sexism and executive interference played a part in the firing). And CTV co-workers told the Toronto Star they now fear everyone’s job is in jeopardy if the veteran star of their flagship broadcast could be let go in pursuit of better ratings.

LaFlamme worked as a reporter and broadcaster for CTV for more than three decades, and the journalistic loss is huge for the company. But I doubt the news will reverberate much with younger Canadians.

While it was classless for CTV to withhold the opportunity for LaFlamme to sign off on television, it’s perhaps more fitting that she announced her departure and said her goodbyes on Twitter.

Her message likely reached more people that way.

We live in a visual world. We’re bombarded with screens and people are constantly watching videos on their phones. But traditional broadcast journalism, even of the highest calibre, is all not the same as it was. While 24/7 news stations will likely survive and continue to inundate us with talking heads, drawn out analysis, and filler, the nightly news is going and it isn’t coming back.

People will still consume news in video format. After all, news is supposed to show us what’s going on, as well as tell us. More young people consume news on social media now — which is not great — but also through short-form documentaries like those produced by Vice and the New York Times. Just because the format is changing, it doesn’t mean new generations aren’t interested in staying informed. I’d argue they’re as informed as ever.

I doubt Bell’s decision to let go of a talented journalist like LaFlamme will do anything to save CTV’s National News, and again it was announced without class, but I understand the move.

“The stakes of the high-profile move could be high for CTV,” the Star reported in its article on LaFlamme’s departure. “Its nightly newscast consistently beats its competitors in the ratings, but has also struggled to become the definitive source on new media platforms.”

The traditional Canadian TV industry is in the midst of widespread experimentation and significant change that has elevated the importance of building audiences on digital platforms, including YouTube and TikTok.

In June, public broadcaster CBC announced plans to shake up its newscast “The National” by putting journalist Adrienne Arsenault in the top anchor job ahead of plans to launch a free 24-hour live streaming channel this fall.

When my girlfriend interviewed for an internship at CBC, she was asked what CBC programming and reporting she followed. She listed a few web reporters, radio shows, and podcasts, which led the interviewers to ask if she kept up with The National. They were somehow taken aback when a 25-year-old told them she did not sit down for an hour each night to get brief two-minute recaps of stories she could explore more deeply online in real time.
The Star article continues:

CTV, owned by a telecommunications giant that for years fought against an inevitable move away from traditional TV, could be feeling similar pressures to appeal to digital audiences with news coverage.

In 2020, a business partnership with Quibi to produce bite-sized news segments fell apart when the billion-dollar U.S. streaming company folded.

Jeffrey Dvorkin, former head of the University of Toronto’s journalism program, said he imagines that executives might have been looking for a new face to lead the network in an increasingly digital media landscape.

“The demographics of journalism have changed so much in a short period of time,” Dvorkin said. “And the quest for a new, more diverse, younger audience is constant.

Losing a quality journalist doesn’t fix anything. Changing the way CTV delivers its news, not who delivers it, does.

While the graceless way LaFlamme was dumped isn’t great, the end of broadcast news is not a bad thing. In fact, an investment in media more people will actually consume just helps keep people connected with what’s going on in the world.

You’re reading this right now on a phone or computer, not off a broadsheet, right? Times change.

Reuters Institute and author Ben Tobias have looked at how TV news can shift to stay relevant in these increasingly digital times. I’ll end today’s File with five of their key findings:

  • the importance of a consistent, motivated team will be crucial to a programme’s success
  • over-reliance of ‘on the day’ stories could be limiting creativity
  • a truly innovative programme will likely be entirely new
  • a programme that appeals to younger people should be ready for a video-on-demand interface
  • a successful evening news programme should offer something new to an audience which already knows the headlines.

Best of luck to LaFlamme in her next move. Cutting out a talented journalist won’t help CTV’s outdated model.

She deserved a better exit.

And video news needs a quicker transformation.

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Government

City

Public Information Meeting – Case 24361 (Tuesday, 6pm, online) — regarding a single-family dwelling at 97 Dartmouth Road, Bedford.

Province

No meetings


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

No events

Wednesday

PhD Defence, Biology (Wednesday, 8:10am, online) — Felicia Vachon will defend “On Cultural Inheritance: Evolution, Behaviour and Social Structure of Eastern Caribbean Sperm Whales”

PhD Defence, Earth and Environmental Sciences (Wednesday, 10am, online) — Trevor Kelly will defend ” Sedimentology and Reservoir Characteristics of the Carboniferous Joggins Formation, Nova Scotia, Atlantic Canada”

Main Group Ambiphiles: Metal-Free Catalysis and Small Molecule Activation using Main Group Elements (Wednesday, 11am, Chemistry Room 226) — Marc-André Légaré from McGill University is the visiting chemistry speaker.


In the harbour

Halifax
08:30: Enchantment of the seas, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 22 from Saint John, on an eight-day roundtrip cruise out of Baltimore
09:00: Borealis, cruise ship with up to 1,685 passengers, arrives at Pier 20 from Sydney, on a 15-day roundtrip cruise out of Liverpool, England
09:00: Dalmacija, oil tanker, arrives at anchorage from Antwerp
10:30: One Hangzhou Bay, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Dubai
13:30: Dalmacija sails for sea
15:30: Siem Confucius, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
19;30: Borealis sails for Sydney
08:30: Enchantment of the seas sails for Baltimore

Cape Breton
06:00: MM Newfoundland, barge, and Lois M, tug, sail from Iona for Cap-aux-Meules (Grindstone, Magdalen Islands)
07:45: Zaandam, cruise ship with up to 1,718 passengers, arrives at Sydney Marine Terminal from Halifax, on a seven-day cruise from Boston to Montreal
12:00: Gullit, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
12:30: Phoenix Admiral, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from New York
13:00: Paul A. Desgagnes, oil tanker, arrives at Sydney anchorage from Quebec City
Paul A. Desgagnes moves to Government Wharf
17:00: Zaandam, cruise ship sails for Charlottetown


Footnotes

  • Yesterday was National Acadian Day. I live a short bike ride away from Grand Pré, but failed to make a visit for the occasion. To make up for it, I vow to finally read Evangeline in its entirety. I’ve always meant to, being from this part of the Valley, but somehow I still haven’t got around to it.
  • Is The National still filming Zoom interviews by showing the anchors talking to a laptop from like five different angles? Why do they do that? Just show a split screen, please. I understand you’re not in the same room. I don’t need the behind the scenes look.

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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. On the glyphosate article I heard part of a podcast awhile back and there is an excellent show airing on the Passionate Eye soon. It covers a guy working for a golf course who got cancer from using Glyphosate. Please forgive me if the details are a little sketchy but I was driving. However, keep and eye for the Passionate Eye on CBC…I believe it will be well worth the viewing.

  2. How many Canadian residents get their news from Al Jazeera or some other ‘ethnic’ broadcaster ?
    Perhaps some journalist will take time to delve into media buys during a federal election and/or the Ontario election. Or contact Al Jazeera in Canada to ask them about Canadian political advertising in Arabic during elections.

  3. I stopped watching CTV in any form some time ago. I watch CBC via the GEM app, but CTV is only available on line if you have a cable TV account. I refuse to get cable and subject my self to the constant three minutes of show, five minutes of ads bombardment. I have not been able to get CTV off air as I would need a huge antenna where I am. It would help if you could get anything on line which you could get off air for free. But for now, the TV landscape is changing and quality news programming is no longer relevant to an increasing number of viewers.

  4. If there’s one habit that defines the baby boomer generation, it’s watching evening news on television. Boomers LOVE TV news.

    Statcan data from 2013 (most recent I could find) had 90% of respondents over 55 getting their news from TV.

    As someone in my 30s, I don’t think I could name one person around my age who gets their news from cable news. The format is tedious, difficult to produce and not the most informative. For example, if you’re running a story on grocery inflation, you need to gather a bunch of b-roll of groceries or send some camera person out to the store to film people pushing carts. So much work, all to accompany 10 seconds of audio that says “inflation is XX%”. Radio and print can say the same thing with 1% of the effort.

    I agree with Ethan, we’re likely to see the continued death of 6 o’clock news as its viewers age out. No new host will change that but it’ll save Bell a few bucks in the short term, I guess.

  5. Canadian broadcasters were once required to provide news as a public service (not as a profit generator) in return for their licences to use the public airwaves. That requirement has long since been dropped and TV news has provided an attractive vehicle for all-too-frequent interruptions from well-heeled advertisers as long as the audience ratings were high. The need to appeal to mass audiences has increasingly turned TV news into infotainment. The advent of digital has complicated things, but as long as the news is considered a profit centre based on ad revenue, the quality of its journalism will not improve. If traditional TV news needs other delivery models, it also needs other forms of financial support.