Nova Scotia’s top doctor says the province “continues to do well” managing the fourth wave of COVID-19, but urged people to get vaccinated and follow public health restrictions especially as the holiday season nears.
During a briefing with Premier Tim Houston on Tuesday, Dr. Robert Strang said most cases this wave have been among children aged five to 11, who up until last week, were ineligible for vaccination. To allow children more time to get their vaccine, the winter break will be extended by two days in January.
On Tuesday, Nova Scotia reported 22 new cases of COVID-19, with the majority identified in Central Zone. There were also 27 recoveries, bringing the active number of cases to 147.
There are 11 people in hospital, including four patients in ICU.
Of the new cases, 18 were in Central Zone, which includes Halifax, and four were in Northern Zone.
Four schools were notified of an exposure on Monday.
StFX University cancels classes, outbreak expected to grow
Meanwhile, St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish cancelled classes on Tuesday, as it braces for additional COVID-19 cases to be identified as part of an outbreak.
President and Vice-Chancellor Andy Hakin wrote in a letter to students that one positive case was reported by public health on Monday, and that they were notified Tuesday morning “to expect more positive cases.”
“The health and safety of the campus community is our top priority. With the information that we currently have, it is out of an abundance of caution that StFX will cancel the remainder of on-campus classes today,” the memo read.
The past weekend was the university’s annual X-Ring Ceremony celebrations, and Strang said there were both sanctioned and unsanctioned events on campus and in the community.
“We expect additional cases in the coming days,” said Strang, during Tuesday’s briefing.
“Public health is working closely with the university to understand and manage this evolving situation.”
Houston asked people to be upfront in order to stay ahead of the evolving outbreak.
“My message to people that were in Antigonish on the weekend would be that if you hosted any events where you weren’t checking for vaccinations or you weren’t following the rules, it’s time to stick up your hand and reach out to public health,” he said.
The university currently plans to begin exams on Thursday as scheduled.
Staff and students who are fully vaccinated and not showing symptoms do not need to isolate.
Those who are not fully vaccinated and have been in close contact with a confirmed case do have to isolate immediately.
The university is also reminding people that if they experience symptoms, such as a cough, fever or shortness of breath, to book a PCR test immediately and notify the school by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Booster shoots and viral vector vaccines
Nova Scotia is adopting the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommendations regarding booster shots.
Although specific dates have yet to be announced, eligibility will be expanded to include those who are 60 and older, and then the program will expand in descending age groups.
The province also plans to allow all front-line health-care workers, including dentists and pharmacists, to schedule a booster dose regardless of the interval between their first two doses.
As well, the minimum interval between first and second doses will be increased from 28 days to eight weeks, but any second dose appointments currently scheduled on a 28-day interval will be honoured.
“Our first priority continues to be vaccinating people who have one dose or no doses of vaccine,” Strang said.
Boosters for people in younger age groups will be reassessed in the new year. Strang pointed to the fact there needs to be six months between the primary series and booster shot, and most people in younger age groups aren’t at the six-month mark yet. There are also less adverse health risks in younger age groups, he added.
Meanwhile, Strang said he knows some people have continued to go unvaccinated because they are refusing to take an mRNA vaccine – in other words, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
He said there is a “small amount” of viral vector vaccines left in the province, which were first made available to employees under vaccine mandates. Those doses will be opened up to the general population. Information about availability will be released soon.
“It’s better that they get some protection from a J&J or an AstraZeneca vaccine than no protection at all and remaining unvaccinated,” he said.
But Strang stressed an mRNA vaccine was the “preferred choice” and that he strongly encouraged people to “think twice and take advantage of the best vaccine” available to them.
“In my mind, it’s not a great choice to be saying – refusing mRNA for a viral vector vaccine,” he said.
As of Tuesday, 84.9 per cent of the province’s population had received at least one dose of vaccine, while 81.7 per cent were fully vaccinated.
‘Let’s not go crazy’ travelling over holidays
Strang urged people to be cautious this holiday season, and to reconsider travel plans.
He said there is more virus activity in provinces such as New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec – and Nova Scotians should take that into consideration.
“Now is the time to enjoy the increased freedoms, if you will, and opportunities we have in Nova Scotia while we’re still in a pandemic,” said Strang.
“But also, let’s not go crazy. Now is now the time to be thinking, ‘I’m just going to travel all over the country or all over the world.’”
Houston echoed the reminder for people to be careful during the holidays, especially at gatherings and parties. Social gatherings not hosted by a business or organization can have 25 people indoors and up to 50 people outdoors without social distancing and masks.
He encouraged organizers of holiday get-togethers to download the app that scans QR codes for proof of vaccination.
“Let’s all have a safe and enjoyable holiday season but we can only do that if we follow public health,” said Houston.
— With a file from The Canadian Press