Nova Scotia reported 117 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and one more death.
The person who died was in their 80s and died in hospital, Premier Iain Rankin said during a news briefing in the afternoon.
Rankin said he was concerned about the number of patients who are being admitted to hospital during the third wave of the pandemic.
He said there are now more hospitalizations now than in the first and second waves of COVID-19 combined and said “our system is under immense pressure.”
“People are arriving to the hospital sicker, and later into their symptoms,” he said, adding that people in hospital range in age from their 20s to their 90s.
“These variants, as I’ve said many times, do not discriminate in age groups,” he said.
There are 89 COVID-19 patients in hospital, including 29 in intensive care. Those numbers differed from what Rankin said during the news conference, but Dr. Tony O’Leary, Nova Scotia’s medical director for COVID-19 critical care, told reporters during a media availability later in the afternoon that the number of patients changes throughout the day.
“Our numbers can change rapidly,” he said. “We really do take these numbers hour by hour, but we’re not going to update the dashboard in that kind of real-time.”
Nova Scotia Health president and CEO Brendan Carr said modelling suggests that in the coming peak of COVID-19 patients, Nova Scotia will have about 60 patients in intensive care and about 140 in acute care. That’s within the health-care system’s capacity, but will “absolutely” cause stress on the system, he said.
Meanwhile, there have been 151 new recoveries since Thursday, and the number of active cases in the province has dropped to 1,537.
On Thursday, Nova Scotia reported eight cases in a non-COVID unit at the Halifax Infirmary site of the QEII Health Sciences Centre.
“As a precaution, Nova Scotia Health Authority is testing staff and doctors who have worked in the unit,” the province said in a press release.
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On Friday afternoon, Carr said it’s unclear how the outbreak there started, but there are “strict and consistent” protocols in place and any patient coming into the hospital is tested for the virus multiple times.
“A number of the patients that became positive had had negative tests done prior to coming,” he said, adding it’s possible for someone to initially test negative and later test positive. “The way that we are operating hospitals is, we assume that there’s COVID all over the place. We have to.”
Carr said those patients have been transferred to the COVID-19 unit, and it’s possible more people could test positive over the next few days.
“Our focus really is on containment and testing and screening,” he said.
None of those patients are in intensive care.
Vaccine appointments for people aged 35+
The province opened up vaccine appointments for Nova Scotians aged 35 to 39 Friday morning, though the change wasn’t formally announced in a news release until almost noon.
People in that age range can book an appointment for a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine online or by calling 1-833-797-7772.
Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said during the briefing that 45 per cent of eligible Nova Scotians have received one or more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine so far.
He said the province is expected to open up to more age groups and are looking at whether they could deliver second doses faster than originally planned. Currently, appointments for second doses are automatically booked 105 days after the first dose.
“We have lots of planning to do before we can say for sure, and it will all depend on the steady supply from the federal government,” he said.
Strang also addressed people who have already received a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the province recently said it would stop using.
“I know that many of you are feeling confused, angry or even scared. I understand that and I apologize if we contributed to this,” he said.
He thanked those who have received the dose of AstraZeneca and said it is still effective at preventing serious illness from COVID-19. He said the decisions the province made have always considered the risk of the vaccine, which can cause rare blood clots, along with the risk of COVID-19 and the availability of other vaccines.
Strang said there have been no blood clot events from the vaccine in Nova Scotia. He said anyone who experiences a side effect should seek medical help.
He said the province is committed to getting everyone who took AstraZeneca a second dose of the vaccine and are waiting for the National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s recommendation on mixing vaccines.
Property tax rebate program for businesses expands
The province announced Friday that more businesses are now eligible for the Small Business Real Property Tax Rebate Program, which opened for applications today.
Live performing arts organizations and independent retailers with a physical location, like bookstores and clothing stores, are now eligible to apply for the program, which provides eligible businesses a one-time rebate of a portion of their paid property taxes.
“We have been consulting with the business community and listening to their concerns. The changes that we are announcing today are one way we are responding to that feedback,” said Labi Kousoulis, minister of Inclusive Economic Growth, in a release.
“We will continue to engage with our local businesses and work with our federal partners to support those in need.”
Eligible businesses can choose a rebate of $1,000, or 50 per cent of the commercial real property taxes paid for the final six months of the 2020-21 tax year.
The eligibility change is estimated to cost the province $4 million, bringing the total cost of the program to $11 million.
The program was previously open only to fitness establishments, hair salons, spas, nail salons, body art establishments and bars and restaurants.
– With files from Aya Al-Hakim