COVID-19: N.S. entering Phase 5 ‘with cautious approach,’ keeping masks and mandating vaccination for some sectors

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia to mandate COVID-19 vaccine for some sectors'
Nova Scotia to mandate COVID-19 vaccine for some sectors
WATCH: Nova Scotia is now the first province to announce it will mandate vaccines for some sectors, including health-care workers and teachers. This comes as the province prepares to enter Phase 5, which will see gathering limits and physical distancing mostly eliminated. Alicia Draus has the details – Sep 29, 2021

Nova Scotia reported 41 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, as the province announced it is indeed starting Phase 5 of its reopening plan on Oct. 4 “with a cautious approach.”

The final phase means some COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted, however, the province is keeping its mandatory masking mandate for indoor public places – including in schools.

The province is also bringing in a vaccination mandate for public employees in certain sectors, including health-care workers and teachers. All employees will be required to show full proof of vaccination by Nov. 30, or will be placed on unpaid administrative leave.

“We’ve done all we can do to encourage people to get vaccinated voluntarily to protect themselves and others,” said Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, during a news briefing.

Story continues below advertisement

While physical distancing and gathering limits for events hosted by a recognized business or organization will be lifted, the province will require proof of full vaccination for non-essential events and activities.

As well, the informal gathering limit of 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors remains in place.

The province also plans to increase its testing capacity to 7,500 a day for the next four weeks. This would be a jump from current numbers. On Tuesday, labs completed 5,720 tests.

The provincial state of emergency will continue to be in effect.

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia mandates COVID-19 vaccine for health-care workers, teachers'
Nova Scotia mandates COVID-19 vaccine for health-care workers, teachers

Premier Tim Houston said the Delta variant has impacted the province’s epidemiology and the fourth wave is taking its toll, making Wednesday’s announcements necessary.

Story continues below advertisement

“This is not where any of us wants to be, it’s certainly not where any of us hoped or thought we’d be. And I want to assure Nova Scotians I don’t take this lightly and none of us do,” he said at the briefing.

Mandatory vaccination and third doses

The province says 74.4 per cent of the population has had two doses of a vaccine, while 80.3 per cent have had at least one dose.

There are about 58,000 people who have not booked a first dose yet, and 46,000 who have not booked their second dose.

All employees who fall under the new mandatory vaccination policy will be required to show full proof of vaccination by Nov. 30, although there is a medical exception process.

Those who choose not to be vaccinated must take part in an education program before Nov. 30. After that date, they will be placed on unpaid administrative leave.

“Simply put, our vaccination rates are not high enough and we need to protect those who can’t protect themselves,” said Houston.

“People have had ample opportunities to get vaccinated but there are still too many people who are choosing not to protect themselves and others.”

Story continues below advertisement

Health and Wellness Minister Michelle Thompson stressed during the briefing that vaccines are both effective and safe, and that the mandate will apply to those work with “our most vulnerable.”

“As a former nurse, I know the importance of vaccination vaccines saves save lives and ensure that many harmful diseases have minimal impact on people,” she said.

“While our vaccination rates are very good, we are in the midst of a fourth wave. And the reality is this. We need everyone to be vaccinated to protect our most vulnerable citizens, our health care system and our economy.”

Vaccination status will be a hiring condition for new staff.

Staff affected by the new policy are:

  • Nova Scotia Health Authority and IWK Health Centre
  • workers in long-term care facilities and home-care agencies (licensed and unlicensed)
  • public school teachers, pre-primary and other school-based staff, regional and board office staff, and those providing services in schools, including cafeteria and school bus services
  • Hearing and Speech Nova Scotia
  • residential facilities and day programs funded by the Department of Community Services Disability Support Program o workers in facilities and those providing placements for children and youth in the care of the Minister of Community Services (excluding foster family placements)
  • paramedics, LifeFlight nurses and some other staff at EHS
  • physicians and other service providers to the above organizations; for example hairdressers and contractors

In a statement, Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) president Paul Wozney said the union has “strongly encouraged” members to get vaccinated and “agrees in principle with the proposed vaccine policy announced today for school staff.”

Story continues below advertisement

Wozney said the union is also pleased that mandatory masking remains in place inside schools.

“Schools remain the largest daily gathering of unvaccinated Nova Scotians. It only makes sense to provide them with extra protections that exceed what’s required in the community at large,” the statement read.

Nova Scotia Public Health has already indicated it will host “outreach COVID-19 vaccine clinics” across the province.

Halifax Regional Centre for Education will be working with public health by holding vaccination clinics at all high schools in Central Zone. The school-based clinics will offer the Pfizer vaccine and be open to students aged 12 and older, as well as school staff.

The province is also moving to offer third doses of an mRNA vaccine as of Oct. 15 for people who required it for work-related travel, and for immunocompromised Nova Scotians.

Proof of vaccination policy

The province’s new proof of vaccination policy begins at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 4.

As of Oct. 1, Nova Scotia is adopting the standard format proof of vaccination developed by the federal government. The format can be downloaded online, and includes a QR code.

People can also print out the proof of vaccination, and even use the original Nova Scotia vaccine record format. Those who were vaccinated in other jurisdictions can show proof from there as well.

Story continues below advertisement

In some cases, valid ID – such as a driver’s licence – will be needed to verify the person is showing their own proof of vaccination.

People aged 12 and older will need proof to take part in “discretionary, non-essential events and activities that gather people together.”

Situations where proof of vaccination would be necessary include restaurants, movie theatres, sports events, theatre performances, and gyms.

However, the province says it made some changes to the list over the past week after “conversations” with several sectors, such as tourism and policing.

For example, the province noted proof of full vaccination will not be needed to enter a library, but it will be necessary for library programs that “bring groups of people together.”

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick mask mandate returns as proof of vaccination takes effect'
New Brunswick mask mandate returns as proof of vaccination takes effect

And while the proof of vaccination policy applies to dining in at fast-food restaurants, it will not apply to takeout, delivery, drive-thru or food courts.

Story continues below advertisement

The new rules apply to patrons and volunteers of these businesses and organizations, but proof of vaccination will not be required for employees. The province is, however, encouraging businesses to set up their own vaccination policies.

As well, it will be required for designated caregivers and visitors of long-term care facility residents “with limited exceptions.”

People who have a valid medical reason can get an exception letter from their physician or nurse practitioner to show instead of a proof of vaccination.

Also, children who turned 12 this year prior to Oct. 4 will have until Dec. 31 to attend events while they get vaccinated, while those who turn 12 after Oct. 4 will have three months after their birthday to become fully vaccinated.

Take-home testing kits

The province is also starting a take-home test kit program for children in pre-primary to Grade 6.

Families in the public school system will receive free rapid testing kits, which can be used for children over the age of three with mild COVID-19 symptoms.

The pilot program, dubbed Test to Protect Kids, will have the province distribute 320,000 rapid tests.

Story continues below advertisement

Strang continued to say Wednesday that throughout the pandemic, “schools are not a significant source of the spread of COVID-19 cases.”

However, he said, improving accessing to testing for children will help the province better detect cases early before “they have the chance to potentially expose others to the virus in a school setting.”

Border rules

Nova Scotia is also re-establishing border controls.

As of Oct. 4, everyone coming to Nova Scotia from other parts of Canada will need to complete the Nova Scotia Safe Check-in form.

Isolation will be based on vaccination status and testing. People who were fully vaccinated at least 14 days before arriving do not have to isolate, but testing is recommended.

People who are not fully vaccinated must isolate for at least seven days and get two negative test results in Nova Scotia to stop isolating after seven days.

The tests must be lab-based, and not rapid tests.

New cases

Thirty-two of the 41 new cases reported Wednesday are in Central Zone, four cases in Northern Zone, three cases in Eastern Zone and two cases in Western Zone.

Story continues below advertisement

The province continues to say that there is community spread in Central Zone, “primarily among people aged 20 to 40 who are unvaccinated and participating in social activities.”

As well, three schools were notified of an exposure at their school on Tuesday. They are École Mer et Monde, Halifax West High and Duc d’Anville Elementary — all in Halifax.

All three schools have had previously-reported cases in recent days.

There were 21 recoveries on Tuesday, bringing the province’s active case count to 224. There are now 12 people in hospital, including two in ICU.

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia schools with COVID-19 exposures now publicly available online'
Nova Scotia schools with COVID-19 exposures now publicly available online

Sponsored content