During Nova Scotia’s first COVID-19 news conference in nearly three weeks, the province’s chief medical officer of health defended the decision to lift all restrictions last month even as case numbers and hospitalizations continue to climb.
Dr. Robert Strang opened Thursday’s news conference by acknowledging the rising numbers over the last week.
“There’s no doubt the current situation is concerning,” he said. “COVID is challenging us once again and the public health team and I remain engaged in the pandemic response.”
According to the latest numbers from the province, there were 6,991 positive PCR tests confirmed over a one-week period ending April 6 — an average of nearly 1,000 cases per day.
Eight additional deaths have been reported since the last update.
There were also 61 new hospital admissions due to COVID-19 and 32 discharges. There are now 57 people in hospital for COVID-19, with a median age of 72. Of those in hospital, 15.8 per cent are unvaccinated or have had one dose of the vaccine.
As of April 6, 87.6 per cent of Nova Scotians have had two or more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, 4.9 per cent have had one dose, and 7.6 per cent were unvaccinated.
On Thursday, the province’s health authority said there were 638 Nova Scotia Health staff off of work due to COVID-19.
The workers are off because they were diagnosed as being positive for COVID-19, are awaiting results of a COVID-19 test, or were exposed to a member of their household who tested positive for COVID-19.
There are 125 workers off in the Western Zone, 278 in the Central Zone, 84 in the Northern Zone and 152 in the Eastern Zone.
Widespread restrictions ‘no longer necessary’
The province has faced criticism recently as COVID-19 cases continue to mount following the removal of most public health restrictions last month. The influx in cases has begun to impact the health-care system as they have forced the cancellation of some elective surgeries.
However, Strang said Thursday there are “societal consequences” of restrictions on people’s mental health, their jobs, the economy and “social connections.”
“Restrictions and mandates played a very important role, especially before we had vaccines and while we were still trying to understand the new virus,” he said. “But public health restrictions were never meant to be in place forever, they can’t be in place forever.”
Strang said the province has a high level of immunity, both from its vaccination coverage and from infections, and said widespread restrictions are “no longer necessary.”
“We are at a point now where we can no longer justify the use of restrictive measures and mandates,” he said, adding that he’s confident Nova Scotians know what to do to keep themselves and others safe.
“It is time to shift the control of COVID back towards individuals and families,” said Strang.
“You will not be left alone in this. Public Health still has a lot of work to do and for a long while yet.”
The doctor also defended the province moving to weekly reporting of COVID-19 data, rather than daily.
“Going from daily reporting to weekly reporting is a big and necessary shift, especially after two years,” said Strang.
Deputy chief medical officer of health Dr. Shelley Deeks, who was also in the conference Thursday, agreed.
Deeks said daily reporting was initially implemented because the goal at the time was to “identify and isolate every case of COVID-19 in the province.”
“That was when we thought we could eliminate this virus,” she said.
“During the transition phase of the pandemic, our goals are different. We are no longer trying to identify every case of COVID. We all know there is a lot of virus out there, and we do not need daily numbers to tell us that. Now we are looking at severe outcomes, like hospitalization and death.”
Deeks said weekly reporting allows Public Health to see trends over time, which helps them see the trajectory of an outbreak “without getting caught up in the day-to-day fluctuations that we know are going to happen.”
She said the “notable increase” in COVID-19 cases this week is a concern, but said the number of hospitalizations as a proportion of positive tests is “still quite low – more than three times lower than in the first wave.”
Deeks also said the case fatality rate is “substantially lower” than in previous waves.
She attributed these rates to the vaccine. Deeks said the risk of hospitalization is 84 per cent lower for people with three doses of the vaccine, compared to people who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated. For deaths, that number is 92 per cent.
2nd booster dose
On Thursday, the province announced that long-term care residents and adults 70 and older will soon be able to book a second booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, following recent recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
People aged 70 and older can get their booster dose 120 days after their primary series or their first booster dose, while people under the age of 70 and are eligible for their first booster dose can get theirs 168 days following their primary series.
The province also announced that the Norovax vaccine has started arriving in the province and will be available for adults 18 and older as a first, second or third dose at some locations beginning Friday.