Nova Scotia

Nearly 5,000 Nova Scotians under quarantine as province reports 70 new COVID-19 cases

Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health says the number of new cases in the province is "going in the right direction." There are 4,909 people self-isolating after being identified as high-risk contacts.

Chief medical officer of health says new case numbers 'going in the right direction'

Nova Scotia reported 70 new cases on Thursday. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

As Nova Scotia reports 70 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, thousands of people are under quarantine as the province battles to stem the spread of the virus.

Dr. Robert Strang, the chief medical officer of health, said 4,909 people are quarantining for 14 days after being identified as high-risk contacts of people who tested positive for COVID-19.

Thousands of others have been identified as medium-risk contacts and are self-isolating while awaiting test results, and others are low-risk contacts who are simply awaiting test results.

The province's total active caseload is now 548.

On Thursday night, 20 potential COVID-19 exposure notifications were issued for three flights and 17 locations in the central, northern and eastern health zones.

Fourteen people are in hospital, including four in the intensive care unit. That is three more people in hospital than Wednesday, and one more person in the ICU. 

Fifty-nine of the new cases are in the central zone, nine are in the eastern zone and two are in the northern zone.

On Wednesday, there were 75 new cases reported, down slightly from the province's all-time high of 96 cases, which were reported on Tuesday.

"Two days does not make a trend but we are going in the right direction," Strang said during a briefing on Thursday. "I have faith that we can turn this situation around, but it will only happen if we all do what is needed."

Strang said Public Health has been flooded with questions from people who are trying to get around the restrictions.

"If you have to ask yourself if you can or you should, the answer is probably no. Do not look for loopholes."

On Wednesday at 8 a.m. AT, a ban that prevents people from travelling outside of their communities, unless it's for essential reasons such as work or medical appointments, went into effect.

The spike in cases coincides with a spike in testing, as Nova Scotians have queued in high numbers over the past few days.

Due to technical difficulties, the province has not reported testing numbers for a few days, but the most recent figures — 9,962 tests processed in labs on Monday, and 11,336 on Sunday — were the highest yet. 

Testing technique scales up capacity

The technical manager of Nova Scotia's primary microbiology lab said staff are using a technique known as pooling to help them process the increased numbers of COVID-19 tests.

Staff take a small portion from a number of different swabs, put them together in one tube and then test the tube. If it comes back negative, staff know all the swabs are negative, and if it's positive, they test each sample individually.

"That really provides us the ability to scale up rapidly, which you've seen in the test numbers," Charles Heinstein, who works at the lab in the central zone, told CBC Radio's Information Morning.

Charles Heinstein is technical manager of microbiology for Nova Scotia's health authority. (David Blomme/NSHA)

Right now, the lab is pooling six swabs at a time and plans to ramp up to eight, which Heinstein said is the maximum number that can be tested together and still provide accurate results.

"We have to ensure that despite the volume that we're pushing through that the tests are still of the highest quality," he said.

Also, thanks to a new automated system, staff no longer have to manually input information from every test that comes into the lab. About 60 per cent of the samples are now registered automatically, Heinstein said.

The microbiology lab started with about 60 staff before the pandemic, and will soon have more than 160, he said. About 30 to 40 staff are being brought on right now to help during the third wave.

"We've got an incredible staff and they're very hidden behind the scenes," he said. "It's gruelling work. It's very hard work and long hours, and they've stepped up."

Atlantic Canada case numbers

  • Newfoundland and Labrador reported two new cases Thursday. There are 27 active cases and two people in hospital with the virus.
  • New Brunswick reported 10 new cases on Thursday. There are 118 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

With files from Emma Smith and Information Morning