Nova Scotia

Drop in COVID-19 cases won't change Nova Scotia's 'slow and cautious' approach to reopening

The Nova Scotia government is not speeding up its plan to ease restrictions to fight COVID-19, even as the number of new cases in the province continues to drop and other Atlantic provinces move ahead with reopening plans.

'We need to make sure we have appropriate control with limited spread of COVID-19 while we open things up'

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, at a press briefing on Friday. (CBC)

The Nova Scotia government is not speeding up its plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions, even as the number of new cases in the province continues to drop and other Atlantic provinces move ahead with relaxed rules.

There was only one new case of the virus reported in Nova Scotia on Monday and one new death at the Northwood long-term care facility in Halifax. The number of new cases has been dropping for the last few weeks.  

Despite the dip, Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said the province will continue to ease restrictions only slowly. 

"That's really a choice that we've made. Better to err on the side of caution," Strang told CBC's Information Morning.

"A position that I've been putting forward is a slow cautious approach. We need to make sure we have appropriate control with limited spread of COVID-19 while we open things up." 

Nova Scotia has done little to open up, especially compared to its neighbours. In New Brunswick and in Newfoundland and Labrador, where there have been no new cases in several days, two households can now get together in shared bubbles of isolation where visiting is allowed and physical distancing isn't required.  

So far, Nova Scotia has only opened up parks and trails to allow people to exercise. 

Strang says the transmission of COVID-19 will have to remain low in order for health restrictions to be relaxed. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Still, Strang said it's important not to move too fast. 

"To minimize the chance of us actually having a resurgence of COVID-19 and having to tighten back down again," he said. 

Strang said it's important to see what impact the reopening of parks and trails will have on COVID-19 transmission. If the transmission rates remain low, the province will look at broadening the activities people are allowed to do outside. 

Strang has also had consultations with a range of sectors about how to reopen.

He's spoken with licensed daycare operators and restaurant owners, along with sports and recreation communities and arts organizations. But he said all of those sectors are weeks away from a large-scale reopening.

The province is also talking to dentists, physiotherapists and other regulated health professionals about going back to work. It's not clear when that could happen. 

So far, 42 people have died from COVID-19 at Northwood's Halifax campus. (Robert Short/CBC)

The restrictions on long-term care facilities are expected to remain in place long after the rules are loosened for the rest of society. 

That means families will still not be allowed to visit. 

Strang said some people should be prepared to not be able to see their loved one in person before they die.     

"It is very hard for me to even say that, but that is the reality," he said. "Unfortunately, having someone physically coming in to visit can put the whole facility at risk."

Of the 48 people that have died from the virus, 42 of them have been at Northwood's Halifax campus. Strang said 15 to 16 per cent of the people infected with COVID-19 at the facility have died from the virus, which he said matches mortality rates within long-term care facilities in Canada and around the world.

In this stock photo a lab technician demonstrates one of the steps to test a specimen for COVID-19. The QEII Health Sciences Centre's microbiology lab completed 291 tests for COVID-19 on Sunday. While the lab has the capacity to run 1,500 tests a day, tests are only done when it's deemed necessary, said Strang. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The main way to protect people in long-term care or other vulnerable populations is to "make sure we have very low levels of virus spreading in the community," said Strang.  
  
Right now Strang is watching how the reopening plans go in other places to help him judge if Nova Scotia is moving too slow or too fast. 

"Quite frankly, we'll learn from other places. We may learn that we can go a little faster, but we may actually learn that our approach is actually the safest and best approach," he said. 

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With files from Information Morning

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