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Coronavirus: lessons learned in Nova Scotia, research underway to prepare for second wave

Click to play video 'Preparing for the second wave of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia' Preparing for the second wave of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia
WATCH: Nova Scotia is reaching the end of its first wave of COVID-19. As those public health restrictions ease, Elizabeth McSheffrey takes a look at the lessons learned from the pandemic so far, and some of the research underway to get ready for a second wave.

Dartmouth General Hospital nurse Teri Pottie remembers the wild ride of adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic “virtually overnight.”

Staff set up walls enclosing every bed, put plexiglass around the nurses’ stations, separated chairs to respect physical distancing, and limited the intake of patients and visitors.

“There were a lot of changes to the look of our department, the procedures, the assignments nurses have, the responsibilities,” she told Global News, still in her scrubs at the hospital’s emergency department, where she works as the clinical lead nurse.

“It was a trial-and-error type thing. Thank God for everybody that works here, everybody came to us with ideas and suggestions … they adapted extremely quick.”

Nova Scotia is reaching the end of its first wave of the pandemic, with Tuesday marking the third day that no new cases of the virus were announced. Health-care workers like Pottie and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Strang say valuable lessons have been learned in the last three months that will improve the system’s response if a second wave hits.

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READ MORE: No new cases identified in Nova Scotia on Tuesday, child care centres to reopen

In her department, Pottie said the pandemic has encouraged staff to brush up on their personal protective equipment (PPE) protocol, cement COVID-19 practices and policies, and fostered new comfort around the exchange of ideas and feedback.

“They didn’t shut down, they came forth and were ready, willing and able to assist,” she explained. “We’ve gotten very good at communication at all levels — not just our nursing staff and doctors, it goes all the way to our laundry and clerks.”

If another wave of COVID-19 hits — which is likely, say experts — Pottie said the “first thing” the Dartmouth General Hospital would do is limit the number of people allowed in. Those restrictions may decrease in the weeks to come as case numbers continue to decline, she explained, but health-care workers will be watching closely for any changes.

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Other COVID-19 adaptations, she added, including physical distancing and more stringent PPE use, may remain in place all summer.

“I don’t really think we’re going to change a lot, because the changes that we’ve made, we really like,” she said.

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Fitness studios prepare to reopen as COVID-19 restrictions ease

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Strang, who has spearheaded Nova Scotia’s response to the pandemic since it began, said the province will be “much better prepared” for a second wave than it was for the first, thanks to improved “interaction” between sectors of the health-care system that are sometimes siloed.

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“We’ve built our laboratory capacity, we have a robust system of 811, our health authorities with our assessment centres closely linked with public health to do followup — it’s been a foundation of how well we’ve been able to manage COVID-19,” he told Global News on Friday.

Strang added that the public has also conquered a massive learning curve when it comes to public health restrictions and supported each other in a way that could make the next wave a little smoother.

“I hope we don’t lose those because we move out of this first wave of COVID — that building a more caring, thoughtful community that looks after each other is perhaps one of the legacies of COVID.”

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Coronavirus outbreak: Nova Scotia increases gathering limits to 10 people

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Research is also underway in the province’s academic sphere to improve the odds during a second wave.

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Yigit Aydede, an economics professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, is leading a team of researchers developing a predictive model that will shed light on how environmental conditions impact the transmission of the novel coronavirus in the province. The project will use artificial intelligence to crunch localized weather data and data on public mobility and search for correlations with the number of positive COVID-19 cases.

“If the transmission rate is increasing in certain temperature and humidity and wind conditions for example, then it’s going to be a warning,” said Aydede, “because you’re going to know for the next couple of days what the weather conditions are going to be, and then you can release the warning system or use a kind of risk analysis and warn the public.”

The project is among many new pandemic response initiatives funded by the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Coalition, which consists of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, Research Nova Scotia and a handful of local universities and hospital foundations.

Aydede hopes to have the model ready in about six months.