Nova Scotia has recorded its highest daily COVID-19 case count since the pandemic began, as Premier Iain Rankin held a rare weekend briefing, saying he is “infuriated” at those flouting public safety rules.
Rankin announced harsher penalties for large gatherings and more restrictions for the province but did not close schools.
The province reported 63 new cases on Sunday, for a total of 263 active cases.
Of those cases, 57 are in Central Zone, which is currently struggling with community spread and outbreaks.
The Halifax area, which is in Central Zone, is currently under a near-lockdown, in response to surging COVID-19 case numbers.
The province says the remaining cases are: three in Eastern Zone, one in Northern Zone and two in Western Zone.
During Sunday’s briefing with Rankin, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang said we have to now assume all new cases in the province are variants of concern.
He said that they’re seeing even “moderate exposure” has resulted in infection.
“We didn’t see that in the first and second waves,” Strang said.
“Don’t lose hope but please take it seriously.”
People violating health restrictions in Halifax COVID-19 hot spot
Rankin also announced Sunday that the province is doubling the fine for those who break gathering limits from $1,000 to $2,000.
There is also a new provincial order until May 20 requiring people to stay in their communities and not travel, except for work, medical or legal reasons. The gathering limit outside of HRM has also been reduced to 10 indoors or outdoors.
Strang said large gatherings that violated restrictions were disappointing and that the “callous and casual behaviour is just wrong.”
He urged people to not focus on the missteps of others but to change their own behaviour by limiting gatherings and trips.
“This is what we did a year ago, and we need to do it again,” he said.
Police in Halifax say they responded to 17 calls on Saturday night about people possibly violating COVID-19 restrictions and issued two $1,000 tickets.
In a news release, Halifax Regional Police say the calls were from concerned citizens about potential violations to the Health Protection Act.
“Most were found to be in compliance with regulations,” police stated in the release.
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However, at 9:30 p.m., police did respond to a gathering in the 1900-block of Brunswick Street in downtown Halifax “where it was suspected that persons were exceeding the provincially mandated gathering limits.”
The limit for Halifax is currently five people.
Two men were issued summary offence tickets for violating the act, which carries a fine of $1,000.
On Friday night, 22 people were given the same fine for being at a party in Halifax.
Dalhousie University initially said on Saturday afternoon that while they had “become aware of a photo of young people showing COVID-19 violation tickets on social media,” they had no way of knowing if those charged were Dalhousie students.
A few hours later, they updated their stance to say they had indeed identified their students and “are considering immediate suspension and all other options under the Code of Student Conduct.”
More schools with connected cases, another family of schools closed
On Saturday night, the province announced five new schools now have COVID-19 cases.
Caledonia Junior High and Prince Andrew High School in Dartmouth, Citadel High School in Halifax, and Breton Education Centre in New Waterford each reported one case.
Astral Drive Elementary in Dartmouth, which was closed last week because it is part of the Auburn High family of schools, also reported a case.
The province is closing a second family of schools: Prince Andrew. The closure affects 12 junior highs and elementary schools that feed into Prince Andrew High School, which include Caledonia Junior High.
“Out of an abundance of caution, students in the Prince Andrew family of schools will learn from home until May 10,” it said in a news release.
“Schools will communicate with students and families on the arrangements for students to gather essential personal belonging, such as medication, specialized equipment, and learning resources, and technology if needed.”
The province adds that Citadel High School students will learn from home until the building is re-opened.
Breton Education Centre will remain closed to students until April 29. The school will receive a deep cleaning and families should receive an update on April 28.
“Public health will be in touch with any close contacts of these positive cases and advise of next steps, including testing. Everyone who is a close contact will be notified, tested and asked to self-isolate for 14 days,” the province states.
“Out of an abundance of caution, public health is recommending that all students and staff be tested. No self-isolation is required, unless people have been identified as a close contact by public health or have symptoms.”
Despite calls for all schools to be closed, Rankin and Strang said that was not necessary at this time.
Strang said schools are not currently driving infection, but that the cases are an indication of what is happening in the communities.
Surge in testing
Meanwhile, testing in HRM has grown exponentially.
On Sunday, an additional primary assessment centre was held at the Canada Games Centre in Halifax.
“We really have increased our testing tenfold in the last week to meet the demand in the community for asymptomatic testing,” said Dr. Cynthia Stockman, the director of COVID-19 response for Central Zone.
“A week ago in Central Zone, we were doing anything from 600 to 800 tests a day. Yesterday, we tested almost 7,000 people at our primary assessment centres.”
The capacity for testing on Sunday is 9,500 people. In addition, there are mobile testing options in communities where a need has been identified.