Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia increasing 811 staffing levels, COVID-19 testing capacity

Nova Scotia is increasing staffing levels at its swamped 811 service and boosting the number of daily tests it conducts for COVID-19 as the number of cases in the province rose to 51, officials said Tuesday.

Province announced 10 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, brings total to 51

The number of people Nova Scotia is capable of testing for COVID-19 is increasing from 200 to 400 a day. (Nova Scotia Health Authority)

Nova Scotia is increasing staffing levels at its swamped 811 service and boosting the number of daily tests it conducts for COVID-19 as the number of cases in the province rose to 51, officials said Tuesday.

The province said the 10 cases announced today are connected to family groups who travelled outside Canada, or are connected to ones that were reported earlier.

The province said none of the cases came from community spread.

It hosted a press conference at 3 p.m. AT to provide the latest updates and CBC News carried the province's stream.

During the press conference, chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang reiterated that community spread will happen.

"It's all about minimizing the spread of this virus in this province," he said of measures announced by the province, including declaring a state of emergency that will last until at least April 5.

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"Our collective actions do matter greatly."

Increase in testing capacity

Strang said public health has now doubled its testing capacity to 400 tests daily, and was looking at increasing that number further should the situation warrant.

He said the province is also starting to widen the criteria in which tests are warranted to include people who have had close contact with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and people who have been admitted to hospital with severe symptoms consistent with the virus.

Strang also raised concerns about people who have not been honest with 911 operators and hospital staff about their risk factors.

A plea from Strang

"It's unfortunate that I have to say this, but it's important you're truthful from the very beginning about your travel history," said Strang, adding that 911 should only be called during emergencies.

"People will receive the care they need no matter what their health issue is, but if you do not tell the truth about travel history, we cannot be alerted about the potential for COVID-19 and you're quite frankly putting other people at risk, especially health-care workers."

Premier Stephen McNeil said he wanted to clarify what constitutes an essential service, as there were questions as to what businesses and operations could remain open under the state of emergency.

That includes industries such as the food supply chain, financial institutions, health care, information technology, transportation, first responders and construction.

He said a tool would be available online soon for companies to refer to.

Sources of latest cases

Of the 51 cases, one person is in hospital, while another has recovered from COVID-19 and the province classifies that case as "resolved."

On Monday, Strang said the illness typically runs its course in about 10 days, and people who were considered to have recovered from the virus would be able to resume their normal activities, while observing the same physical distancing as everyone else.

The province has completed 2,474 negative tests for COVID-19.

Hospitals that can assess, treat patients

The Nova Scotia Health Authority announced Tuesday that several hospitals across the province have been designated to assess and treat patients with COVID-19. The hospitals are:

  • QEII-Halifax Infirmary site.
  • Dartmouth General Hospital.
  • Yarmouth Regional Hospital.
  • Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney.
  • St. Martha's Regional Hospital in Antigonish.
  • Colchester East Hants Health Centre in Truro.
  • IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

Those sites include a primary assessment centre for people referred by 811, and a secondary assessment centre for patients requiring care or treatment, a news release said.

The health authority said other COVID-19 units may be identified as the situation evolves.

COVID-19 symptoms

The early symptoms of the virus are similar to a common cold or seasonal flu, and can include fever, cough, difficulty breathing and pneumonia in both lungs.

Retired health-care providers in Nova Scotia are stepping up to help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Nova Scotia College of Nursing said it is receiving daily inquiries about licensing. 

As of Monday, 78 registered nurses and eight licensed practical nurses have come out of retirement.

Meanwhile, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia said it has received 39 requests over the past week from retired physicians looking to come back to work to help with the response to the pandemic.

As of last Thursday, six licences had been issued. The licences are restricted to work related to COVID-19.

Additional 811 support

Health Minister Randy Delorey has said retired nurses will assist with 811 staffing. As of Friday, 811 was getting roughly 1,500 calls a day.

There have been complaints from the public about long waits when calling 811.

McNeil said the province is increasing capacity at 811. He said 53 nurses and tele-associates have been added, and 40 more were being trained. It is also increasing the number of phone lines to 138, which is a near doubling of capacity.

The health authority said Tuesday it was preparing intensive care units (ICU) for a potential "surge in capacity with COVID-19 patients."

Spokesperson Carla Adams said there are 120 ICU beds across the province, and were at 50 per cent capacity on Tuesday. She said on an average day, the authority is at 90 per cent capacity.

"This highlights the behind the scenes work being done by teams to prepare," she said.