Nova Scotia health officials reported nine new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, bringing the total number of active cases in the province to 65.
Three of the new cases are located in the western zone, two of which are close contacts of previously reported cases. The other case is under investigation, the province said in a Friday update.
One new COVID-19 case is located in the northern zone and is under investigation.
Five of the cases are in central zone, two of which are related to travel outside of the province, and are self-isolating. One of the cases is a close contact of a previously reported case and another case is under investigation.
New school-related case
Premier Stephen McNeil said in a provincial update on Friday that another school-based case was identified, at Shannon Park Elementary in Dartmouth.
The school already reported one case of COVID-19 earlier this week and has been closed for cleaning and contact tracing. Students are now expected to return to class on Dec. 16, with an update coming the day prior.
McNeil said the province has decided to extend winter break by one week as a precautionary measure. Schools will shut down on Dec. 18 and reopen Jan. 11.
“If COVID decides to join Christmas gathering, cases can be identified before kids return to school,” McNeil said in the update.
He said he hopes cases won’t pop up, but extending the break is “precautionary and protective.”
Poultry farm outbreak
The province announced on Friday the Eden Valley Poultry Inc. processing plant in Berwick, N.S, will be closed for at least two weeks due to an outbreak of COVID-19 at the facility.
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, said two cases identified earlier this week were individuals who worked at the plant. Two more cases at the plant were confirmed on Friday after Public Health conducted mass testing at the facility.
Strang said the province is waiting on 300 test results in connection to the poultry plant.
“We wanna make sure that we’re doing everything we can to detect anything and detect it early,” Strang said.
He said there is no evidence that there’s been community transmission in the area, but Public Health will be ramping up testing.
The province is sending a mobile testing unit and will organize a pop-up rapid testing site in Berwick.
Vaccine roll-out update
Strang said on Friday the Pfizer vaccine roll-out in Nova Scotia process is “moving fast,” as the province is set to receive the first 1950 doses next week.
On Wednesday, the province conducted a dry run with a Pfizer shipment containing dry ice in place of the vaccine. The vaccine has specific handling requirements and must be held at minus 70 degrees Celsius.
In addition, Strang said Nova Scotia’s health team is participating in a national exercise focused on risk management and troubleshooting in connection to the vaccine.
“We are absolutely ready to receive the vaccine and start administering that,” Strang said.
Strang said that after the initial batch, the province is expecting weekly deliveries of the vaccine for the first three months of 2021, with enough doses to vaccinate 75,000 residents.
There are two priority groups for the vaccine: those at high risk of serious illness due to age, and those critical in treating patients with COVID-19.
But, Strang says Nova Scotians can expect weekly updates from the province on the roll-out process. All Nova Scotians are expected to be immunized in Fall 2021. “You will hear from us, and it will be a number of months.”
Even after receiving a vaccine, Strang said Public Health protocols like distancing and wearing masks will be in place.
“We know the vaccine gives short-term protection… What is not clear at this point in time is that even if you’re immunized there’s still possibility you can asymptomatically transmit the virus.”
Holiday season advice
Strang said in the Friday briefing that no decision has been made on extending the strict COVID-19 restrictions in the central zone yet. They are set to expire next week, but Strang said there will be an update on their status.
Strang said Nova Scotians should plan for a different kind of holiday season this year.
“One that is spent close to home with people you love in consistent small groups, one where we do much less in-store shopping and focus on support local shops and restaurants with online and pick-up purchases, and one where the gift we give and the love we show is keeping each other safe from COVID.”
Strang said Nova Scotians should focus on reducing their social activity and be mindful of those at risk of serious illness.
The province also encouraged residents to take advantage of the asymptomatic testing offered.
Strang said the response to date has been “great.”
To date, the Zatzman testing site in Dartmouth has completed 6,800 tests for COVID-19, and more than 1,100 have booked appointments online to date. He said 8,500 tests were completed at Nova Scotia’s rapid testing pop-up sites.