Nova Scotia’s premier and top doctor are calling on people to get tested for COVID-19 regularly, even if they’ve received a dose of a vaccine, as daily testing numbers drop to their lowest point since mid-April.
On Sunday, labs completed 2,057 tests. That’s the lowest number of tests since April 18, when 1,950 tests were completed.
“We are concerned about the lower level of testing this weekend, especially when the socializing has increased and the weather is getting better,” said Premier Iain Rankin during a briefing on Monday.
“You can still have fun by following the rules but testing has to be part of the routine.”
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang says while the province is “at the tail end of the third wave,” the Delta variant — first identified in India — is something to be concerned about.
“The emerging information about the Delta variant … shows it is more easily transmitted and not as well protected against by one dose of vaccine. This is further evidence of how we need to remain cautious until the majority of Nova Scotians are fully vaccinated,” he said.
He says testing is key to finding out the virus activity in the province, especially as Nova Scotia moves through its re-opening plan.
“It’s critically important that we have high testing volumes because that’ s very important information that gives us confidence on where we are in terms of safety with COVID,” said Strang.
The province is currently in the first phase of the plan, which has allowed restaurant patios to open and retail stores to open at 25 per cent capacity.
Rankin says it appears likely that Phase 2, which would allow indoor restaurant dining and indoor gatherings of up to 10 people, will go ahead on June 16 so long as the province’s cases and hospitalizations are low. In general, the phases are set to move at two-week increments.
14 new cases, 2 schools closed
The province announced 14 new cases on Monday.
Eleven of those new cases are in Central Zone, nine of which are close contacts of previously-reported cases. Two are under investigation.
Two of the Central Zone cases are connected to Graham Creighton Junior High in Dartmouth, as well as Bedford and Forsyth Education Centres (Dartmouth campus). Both are close contacts of previously-reported cases.
The schools, which only resumed in-person classes last Thursday, will be closed until this Thursday to allow for testing of close contacts and a deep cleaning. Students will learn form home during the closure.
Strang says it is not unusual to see “sporadic” school cases, since students and staff are out in the community and the virus is still circulating.
“While some seem surprised by this news, I fully expected it given that we still have COVID activity,” he said.
But he maintains that schools, which have protocols in place when positive cases are identified, remain safe and that it was important for them to re-open given the improving epidemiology in the province.
“We know that the best place for learning for children and youth is in school,” he said.
The province says there is “limited community spread” in Central Zone.
The remaining new cases consists of two in Eastern Zone and one in Western Zone. All are either close contacts or related to travel.
There were 36 recoveries since Sunday, bringing the province’s active case count to 182. There are 22 people in hospital, including seven in ICU.
Strang recommends mRNA as second doses
Meanwhile, 637,911 of COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the province. Of those, 44,567 people have received their second dose.
On June 1, the province resumed the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for second doses, after briefly pausing its use due to an “observed increase” in a rare blood clotting condition linked to the vaccine.
Monday, Strang says he is now recommending people choose an mRNA vaccine as the second dose.
“There is now a small study showing that a second dose of an mRNA vaccine, so Pfizer or Moderna, after a first dose of AstraZeneca, results in a better immune response than two doses of AstraZeneca,” he said.
“Based on this emerging evidence and the risk of a rare but serious blood clotting events with the AstraZeneca vaccine. I am now recommending that anyone who got a first dose of AstraZeneca get a second dose with an mRNA vaccine.”
People are still able to choose AstraZeneca as their second dose if that’s their preference, or if they are unable to use an mRNA vaccine.
Despite this shift in recommendation, Strang says the province’s overall vaccination plan will not be hindered.
“We have very secure and robust supplies of Pfizer vaccine,” he said. “We … absolutely have sufficient supply to accommodate them and not slow down our progress for all Nova Scotia.”