COVID-19 restrictions in Nova Scotia will be in place for at least the rest of January, but the province is hoping to lift some of the rules next month, Premier Tim Houston announced on Wednesday.
This came as the province announced three new deaths from the virus: a woman and a man, both in their 80s, in the Central Zone and a man in his 90s in the Eastern Zone.
Since Saturday, there has been a total of 13 deaths linked to the virus, five of which were reported in a single day on Tuesday.
During a news conference, Houston took note of the “significant loss of life” and said the number of hospitalizations in the province is continuing to stress the system.
“There is still a path to loosening restrictions, but it’s a path that extends past January 31st,” said Houston.
While many of the restrictions will remain in place until Feb. 14, Houston said he is looking to relax some restrictions in arts, culture and sports around Feb. 7.
Houston said he hoped to have sports practices back by Feb. 7 and games back by Feb. 14, though likely without spectators.
“But these are just goals and we have to watch what’s happening between now and then,” he said.
On Wednesday, the province reported 16 new hospitalizations and five discharges. There are now 91 people in hospital who were admitted due to COVID-19, including 15 in ICU.
The age range of those in hospital is between six and 100 years old, with an average age of 67 and an average length of stay of 7.3 days.
Of the 91 in hospital, 18 have had a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, 53 have had two doses, three are partially vaccinated and 17 are unvaccinated.
“It is important to note that less than 10 per cent of Nova Scotians are unvaccinated,” the province said in a release issued shortly before the news conference.
There are an additional 100 people who were admitted to hospital for non-COVID reasons and were later found to be positive, or who were admitted due to COVID-19 but no longer need specialized care.
Another 121 people contracted COVID-19 after they were admitted to hospital for another reason.
Houston said loosening restrictions are based on a number of factors, but the most important ones are the amount of stress on the health-care system and the success of the booster program.
“While the hospitalization situation has to be closely monitored … the booster program’s success is something that we can all be encouraged by,” said Houston, noting the province is on track to have a total of 485,000 booster doses in arms by the end of the month. He said for those 18 and over, 56.9 per cent have already received their booster or have booked their shot.
The release said an additional 346 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 are being reported, out of 3,602 tests completed Tuesday. There are 164 cases in the Central Zone, 56 in the Eastern Zone, 35 in the Northern Zone and 91 in the Western Zone.
There are an estimated 4,353 active cases in Nova Scotia.
‘Not out of this wave yet’
During the briefing, Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, noted that most Nova Scotians who died during the Omicron wave are primarily older people with underlying health conditions.
“That doesn’t mean we do not need to be cautious. Just the opposite,” he said. “The elderly in our communities need to be valued and protected by the rest of us.”
However, the doctor said there is “reason to be optimistic,” thanks to the province’s high vaccination rates and the “hard work of Nova Scotians.”
“Keeping restrictions in place a little longer should give more time for cases to continue trending downward and to help relieve the pressure on the health care system,” said Strang.
“Remaining cautious now allows optimism for all of us as we move through winter and closer to spring.”
He said evidence around the world shows that while the COVID-19 vaccine has a “modest impact” on stopping the spread of the Omicron variant, it is highly effective in reducing severe outcomes like hospitalization or death.
Strang said around seven per cent of Nova Scotians, or around 72,000 people, are eligible for the vaccine but haven’t received it. That seven per cent accounts for 21 per cent of hospitalizations and 30 per cent of deaths since Dec. 8, he said.
“This significantly higher risk for unvaccinated people for getting severely ill and dying has been seen across the country and the world,” said Strang.
“Think of it like riding a motorcycle. If you wear a good helmet and protective clothing, you can still get hurt if you crash, but you’re much less hurt than if you were wearing shorts and sandals.”
The doctor also said the province appears to be past its peak for new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19, and since hospitalizations tend to come a couple of weeks after cases, the province is likely “right within the peak of hospitalized cases now.”
Still, Strang urged caution in the days and weeks ahead. “We’re not out of this wave yet,” he said.
The province also reported COVID-19 outbreaks at the Halifax Infirmary site and the Victoria General site of the QEII Health Sciences Centre, as well as at the Digby General Hospital. Fewer than five patients tested positive at each facility.
There are also additional cases for the following outbreaks:
- One additional patient in a ward at Cape Breton Regional Hospital; fewer than 10 patients have tested positive
- One additional patient in a ward at the Abbie J. Lane Memorial building of the QEII Health Sciences Centre; fewer than 10 patients have tested positive.
On Tuesday, the province also reported two more COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities, in addition to the outbreak in Northwood reported on Monday.
Two residents and one staff member tested positive at Villa Acadienne in Meteghan and two staff members tested positive at My Cape Breton Home for Seniors (Westmount) in Cape Breton Regional Municipality.
Also Tuesday, public health also announced that Nova Scotia now has 900 treatments of Pfizer’s Paxlovid drug on hand. The oral pill is used to treat those with mild COVID-19 symptoms to prevent more severe illness and hospitalization.
More to come.
— With files from Alicia Draus and Karla Renic