The Nova Scotia government says the province will remain in shutdown until at least the second week of June as it tries to get its COVID-19 numbers down.
That means students won’t be returning to in-school learning this year and limits on gathering and travel within the province will remain in place.
Speaking during a news conference Wednesday, Premier Iain Rankin said the province continues to watch the situation closely.
“We need to continue to follow these restrictions, so they will remain in place. And if we do that, then we’ll be able to be in a better place come mid-June,” he said.
The province is reporting another two COVID-19 related deaths and 83 new cases on Wednesday.
The people who died were a man in his 60s in the eastern health zone and a woman in her 60s in the central health zone. A total of 74 people in Nova Scotia have now died of COVID-19.
The province is also reporting 164 new recoveries, bringing the number of active cases in the province down to 1,262. The province’s health labs completed 7,324 tests on Tuesday.
There are now 101 people in hospital, including 20 in ICU.
Nova Scotia Health president and CEO Brendan Carr said about three quarters of patients are hospitalized in the central zone, which has created “quite a bit of pressure” in that region.
He said eight patients, both COVID and non-COVID, have been transferred to hospital in another health zone to relieve some of that pressure.
“This is really so that we can continue to have some capacity to deal with what we know are going to be additional COVID patients in both acute care and ICU,” he said.
Community spread in Cape Breton
The 83 new cases include 59 in the central health zone, 19 in the eastern zone, three in the western zone and two in the northern zone.
While much of the community spread so far has been in the central health zone, Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, said he was concerned by the number of cases in the eastern zone, where most of the new cases are concentrated in Sydney.
“We are beginning to see community spread in Sydney,” he said, adding that most of those cases are among people in their 20s and 30s.
Starting Thursday, Strang said there will be a new pop-up COVID-19 testing centre at Centre 200.
He said the primary assessment centre on Grand Lake Road continues to take both walk-in rapid testing and PCR testing by appointment, and the primary assessment centre at the Northside General also offers appointment PCR testing.
Strang said testing has “dropped off a little bit” and encouraged everyone in the region to get tested.
“We need to seek out and find all the COVID that’s in this area,” he said.
Another case in hospital outbreak
Another patient in a non-COVID unit at the Halifax Infirmary site of the QEII Health Sciences Centre has tested positive for the virus and has been moved to a COVID-19 unit amid an outbreak at the hospital. A total of 15 other patients and six staff members have tested positive during the outbreak. Twelve of those patients remain in hospital.
As well, two of the cases in the eastern zone involve a resident and outside agency staff member at Harbourstone Enhanced Care, a long-term care facility in Sydney. A third case involves a staff member of the My Cape Breton Home for Seniors in North Sydney.
“Staff and residents in the impacted units of both facilities are being tested and residents are being cared for in their rooms,” a release from the province said Wednesday. “Most residents of both facilities have received both doses of COVID-19 vaccine.”
A central zone case involves a staff member at the Ivy Meadows long-term care facility in Beaver Bank. It’s the second case involving a staff member at this facility. Most residents there have also been given two doses of the vaccine.
As of Tuesday, 442,535 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, including 40,096 second doses.
The province opened up Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to people 30 and older Monday morning, and Rankin has said the province expects to have all eligible groups open by next week.
Permanent residents and rotational workers
Starting tomorrow, permanent residents who apply to re-enter the province via the Nova Scotia Safe Check-in form will no longer have to wait three days for approval, said Strang. They will get an automatic approval conditional upon providing proof of permanent residency to border officials.
This proof includes government-issued identification cards, driver’s licences, passports, and utility bills and bank statements showing their permanent home address.
Rotational workers will have to do the full application process for their first trip back to the province since May 14. When they complete the application, they will be contacted looking for further documentation.
After the first trip back, they will still need to apply for future trips, but will get their approval “much faster,” said Strang.
Teachers union responds
The lockdown’s extension means the province’s students will continue remote learning for the rest of the school year.
At Wednesday’s briefing, the premier thanked teachers, students and families for their efforts.
Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) President Paul Wozney echoed that sentiment, saying in a news release that he wanted to “thank parents and guardians for their patience and cooperation as we’ve transitioned to distance learning over the past three weeks.”
Wozney says the union supports the decision to extend remote learning for the remainder of the academic year and is hopeful September will be much better.
“This was a difficult decision, which demonstrates a deep commitment on the part of Dr. Strang and Premier Rankin to the safety of students, teachers, school staff and families,” Wozney said.
“The NSTU looks forward to working with government in the best interests of students as we navigate through the rest of this school year and as we prepare for the next one. Hopefully by the time September arrives, it will be safe to resume some, if not all, normal activities.”
Long weekend ahead
Strang also spoke about the upcoming May long weekend, which he said will look “very different” from Victoria Day weekends past.
“The variants make this a very different and difficult situation right now, so this long weekend cannot be the social occasion that we’re used to,” he said.
People can’t get together in groups, even outside. Strang said they can still see a close friend or neighbor outside, with distancing. People can still visit parks, trails or beaches, but people can only travel within their communities and need to stay within their households.
“But if you can maintain consistent physical distancing, you can meet one or two of your friends,” he said.
Private campgrounds are only open for seasonal campers and no short-term camping is allowed.
People who own cottages can travel there if they intend to stay there all season, said Stang. “A one time trip is okay, but you have to pick — whether it’s your home, your cabin or campsite — which one will be your single primary residence through the spring.”
Strang also took a moment to call out the “privilege” of people who wish to travel back and forth to their cottages during this time.
“I think people should recognize that if they actually have a cottage or a second place to go, they are extremely privileged. There are many people that are struggling to maintain their home, losing their jobs right now,” he said.
“Do not go back and forth. That’s not much to ask when many people are struggling for a lot more. We have people struggling for their lives in hospital. So choose one place and stay there.”
— With files from Rebecca Lau.