Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia opens up AstraZeneca vaccinations to people aged 40-54

The new cases Wednesday in Nova Scotia bring the total known active caseload in the province to 489. Premier Iain Rankin and Dr. Robert Strang, the chief medical officer of health, held a briefing.

New cases bring total known active caseload in the province to 489

A medical worker wears a surgical mask, face shield, and gloves, conducting a COVID-19 test on an unidentified man in Montreal, Quebec. (Ivanoh Demers/CBC)

Nova Scotia has announced it is opening up appointments for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to people aged 40 to 54 later this week.

The province is reporting 75 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. The new cases bring the province's total known active caseload to 489.

Premier Iain Rankin said at a briefing that the plan is to open up AstraZeneca-Oxford appointments across the province for the 40-54 age group by Friday. It is currently available to people between 55 and 64 years old.

Dr. Robert Strang, the chief medical officer of health, acknowledged "a lot" of AstraZeneca appointments have been cancelled recently, especially as Moderna and Pfizer-BioNtech vaccines become available for the younger age group of 55 and up.

While numbers are fluctuating, Strang said there are about 10,000 AstraZeneca doses available in Nova Scotia, which is how the province is able to offer it to a new age group.

He added that the province will make sure people interested in getting the AstraZeneca shot will have "clear information" on the risks and benefits of that vaccine. There have been rare instances of serious blood clots following the use of the vaccine, including five cases in Canada.

"We want people to make an informed choice," Strang said.

Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization now recommends expanding the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to all Canadians over the age of 30, when the benefits outweigh the risks of blood clots.

Province asks Nova Scotians to give up daycare spots

The province is also "leaning on the child-care sector," Rankin said, and asking those people now working from home during the lockdown to pull their children from daycare temporarily.

This move would free up child-care spaces for essential workers and keep the health-care sector going smoothly, the premier said. Families will get their spaces back when lockdown ends, Rankin said.

He added that details will be announced soon, but the province will support the cost of child care for those essential workers.

Sixty-seven of the new cases reported Wednesday are in the central zone, one is in the northern zone and one is in the western zone. Six are in the eastern zone, one of which was identified at Strait Area Education Recreation Centre in Port Hawkesbury.

One of the new central zone cases is a staff member at Northwood, a long-term care facility where an outbreak last year killed 53 residents, and another is a staff member at Quest Regional Rehabilitation Centre in Lower Sackville.

Residents at both facilities are being isolated, and residents and staff — as well as care providers at Northwood — are being tested. Most residents have been fully vaccinated, according to a news release from the province.

Premier Iain Rankin and Dr. Robert Strang, the chief medical officer of health, hold a COVID-19 briefing on April 28, 2021. (Communications Nova Scotia)

Rankin said given the lockdown has expanded from the Halifax area to the rest of the province, the government needs more time to plan what supports will be offered to small businesses, many of which have been forced to close.

To start, Rankin said officials are looking to bring in the small-business impact grant, and noted there are still federal support programs available.

"We will make sure that we do have support in place," Rankin said.

Eleven people are in hospital in Nova Scotia due to COVID-19, three of them in the intensive care unit.

On Tuesday, 96 new cases were identified, an all-time high in the province.

Late Tuesday evening, the health authority issued almost two-dozen potential COVID-19 exposure notifications, covering locations in the central and northern health zones, and an Air Canada flight travelling to Halifax.

The recent spike in cases coincides with some of the highest numbers of COVID-19 tests ever conducted in the province.

Strang said Tuesday more than 20,000 Nova Scotians got tested on Monday, including rapid tests at pop-up sites. Rapid tests are available to anyone who is 16 or older and does not have any symptoms of COVID-19. They are available Wednesday at locations in Sydney, Halifax and Dartmouth.

On Wednesday, Strang said there are now 74 military members across the province helping at testing centres. This allows Nova Scotia to keep up with the high numbers of swabs and tests during this spike in cases, Strang said.

While the numbers of newly identified cases have jumped in recent days, the percentage of tests that come back positive — known as the positivity rate — remains much lower than during the first wave of the pandemic a year ago.

On Monday, the positivity rate was 0.9 per cent. By comparison, in April 2020, when the case numbers were in the dozens and peaked at 55, the positivity rates were in the four, five and six per cent range because there were usually fewer than 1,000 tests being conducted.

'We've got a shot at bringing this down'

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Lisa Barrett told CBC's Mainstreet on Tuesday that she hopes the high testing rates will help bring the number of new cases down, especially as there is asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19 and community spread in some areas.

"Many of the patients and people I've seen in the last two weeks ... they say, 'I have no idea where I got this, and until I was sick sick sick,'— and clearly they must have had virus for days and days and days — 'I didn't have any symptoms.'"

She urged everyone to get a test, even if they think their sniffles are just seasonal allergies, or even if they've already been vaccinated.

Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infectious disease researcher and clinician at Dalhousie University, hopes to see early signs of the effect of the lockdown next week. (Colleen Jones/CBC)

She also said people should not be focusing on blaming "these people who had a party" or "this one person who travelled." 

"The take-home message … is you don't know who's got this virus. You don't know where it is. And right now, it's all around our communities."

Barrett said she finds hope in the fact that the numbers haven't continued to double over the course of five or six days — for example from 20 to 40 to 80 to 160 to 320 — as they did in Manitoba and parts of Ontario.

"I think if we start to see these numbers level out around 100 … and people continue to get tested a lot, that gives us a good sampling, then I think we've got a shot at bringing this down within the next two weeks.

In response to the rising COVID-19 cases and new restrictions, the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia is expanding its essential-services model to all locations in the province as of Thursday morning. 

This means proceedings for the general division that have not yet begun will be limited to those deemed urgent or essential by a judge. Non-urgent matters, like probate and bankruptcy matters, will be adjourned and rescheduled.

To help reduce the number of people appearing in-person, judges will consider whether alternative measures like telephone or videoconferencing could be used for urgent matters. 

In-person proceedings in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court's family division have been suspended indefinitely, and any matters requiring in-person attendance will be adjourned and rescheduled.

Atlantic Canada case numbers

  • Newfoundland and Labrador reported four new cases Wednesday. There are 27 active cases and one person is in hospital with the virus.
  • New Brunswick reported eight new cases on Wednesday. There are 122 active cases. Four people are in hospital, including two in intensive care.
  • P.E.I. announced two new cases Wednesday for a total of 11 active cases. No one is currently hospitalized.