Nova Scotia

N.S. targets Sept. 15 to begin Phase 5, tightens N.B. border

Nova Scotia will move to the final phase of its reopening plan for the COVID-19 pandemic on Sept. 15 if all goes well over the next few weeks.

'It's time to start living more with COVID,' says chief medical officer of health

Premier-designate Tim Houston (left) and Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, during a Monday briefing on Nova Scotia's plans for Phase 5 and back-to-school. (Communications Nova Scotia)

Nova Scotia will move to the final phase of its reopening plan for the COVID-19 pandemic on Sept. 15 if all goes well over the next few weeks.

According to a release from the province Monday, Phase 5 will see border measures continue while most other public health restrictions are lifted.

"It's time to start living more with COVID," Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said alongside Premier-designate Tim Houston in a briefing Monday afternoon.

Phase 5 is contingent upon 75 per cent of the population having two doses of vaccine. As of Friday, 69.2 per cent of Nova Scotians had received a second dose.

Mandatory COVID-19 rules to be lifted

This final phase has been described as the new normal of living with COVID-19, including the end of mandatory masking and physical distancing.

While Strang said removing restrictions does not mean COVID-19 is gone, it means Nova Scotia's vaccination rates are high enough that people can start living safely with the virus.

It is only a matter of time until the fourth wave reaches the province, Strang said, so people should expect to see cases rise eventually and possible small outbreaks in unvaccinated groups.

He said the key to getting through these case spikes is the vaccine.

"We are in good shape but we aren't where we need to be yet," Strang said about current vaccine coverage.

"Your choice about vaccination needs to balance a right to choose with an equal responsibility to protect those around you."

The only restrictions that would remain in place for the general population within Nova Scotia under the final phase are those related to managing COVID-19 cases. 

For example, anyone with symptoms must still get tested, isolate while they wait for results and continue to isolate if they test positive.

While masks will no longer be mandatory in most places, it's strongly recommended that everyone wear them in indoor public places when they're around other people, especially in fall and winter during cold and flu season.

Masks will still be required for staff in long-term care facilities, while health-care facilities will continue to set their own policies for masks and visitation, the release said.

Businesses and other organizations can also set their own mask policies. Measures like plexiglass barriers and increased cleaning should continue.

Students and staff will be required to wear masks when school begins next month, but that requirement will be lifted once the province enters the fifth and final phase of its reopening plan, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 15. (Robert Short/CBC)

Employers should also continue to support employees to stay home when they are sick, the province said.

When asked about the possibility of the province supporting paid sick days for everyone so people don't have to choose between getting paid and working sick, Houston said he understands the "emotions" behind the issue and plans to talk with the federal government.

He said the federal level is the best place to provide those supports.

Currently, the release said COVID-19 activity remains low across the province. Anyone who has not been vaccinated or has not moved up their second-dose appointment is encouraged to do so.

Border tightening with New Brunswick

For Phase 5, international travellers will continue to follow federal requirements when crossing into Nova Scotia.

The province's current border policy of isolation based on vaccination status and testing will remain in place for travellers coming from provinces and territories outside of Atlantic Canada, likely at least through the fall.

As of 8 a.m. AT on Wednesday, the border policy will also apply to unvaccinated people coming from New Brunswick due to a rise of COVID-19 activity in that province, which reported 58 new cases Monday and an active caseload of 173.

About 70 per cent of Nova Scotians have been fully vaccinated as of Monday. (Robert Short/CBC)

It means those who have been fully vaccinated do not need to self-isolate when they arrive in Nova Scotia.

Strang said Nova Scotia is starting to see cases linked directly to New Brunswick, so this is an "extra layer of protection."

"People who choose to be unvaccinated are going to have to go through extra measures to keep the rest of us safe," he said.

Exceptions to the self-isolation requirement include workers and students who frequently cross the border with New Brunswick.

People moving to Nova Scotia, or coming for vacation or an extended stay, will have to complete the Nova Scotia Safe Check-in form and self-isolate based on vaccination status and testing.

Easier proof of vaccine coming

On the topic of vaccine passports, Strang said the province is working with the federal government on what proof of vaccination would look like for Nova Scotians.

The federal government said earlier this month it plans to create documentation system for international travel by early fall.

Right now, people need to log into a provincial website with their health card to get proof of their vaccination status, and Strang said they want people to have more "ready access."

He said whatever system the federal government lands on for those traveling throughout Canada or internationally could be used in Nova Scotia by businesses or organizations wanting to restrict their services to those who are fully vaccinated.

Strang said it's important that anyone crafting their own policies should be aware of all legal and human rights issues around those who can't be vaccinated for medical reasons, since they still need to be accommodated.

Masks in school until Phase 5

Masks will be required in schools when the school year begins next month, but that requirement will end once Phase 5 begins.

Nova Scotia reported 17 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, which includes all cases identified since the previous update Friday. 

Eleven of the cases are in the central zone. Six are related to travel, and five are close contacts of previously reported cases.

Four cases are in the northern zone and are close contacts of previously reported cases. Two cases are in the western zone and are related to travel.

Nova Scotia Health labs completed 2,978 tests on Friday, 3,123 tests on Saturday, and 2,434 tests on Sunday.

The number of active cases, recoveries, hospitalizations, deaths and immunization data for Monday was not available at the time cases were reported, said a release from the province.

As of Friday, the active caseload was 41 in Nova Scotia.

IWK vaccine clinic to close

This is the final week to receive COVID-19 vaccines at the IWK Health Centre's drop-in clinic in Halifax.

The vaccine clinic will close permanently at 4 p.m. on Friday.

Until then, first or second dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are available at the clinic without an appointment for anyone who is eligible.

Vaccines are available at many other locations throughout the province.

Atlantic Canada case numbers

  • Nova Scotia confirmed 17 new cases Monday and has 41 active cases.
  • New Brunswick reported 58 new COVID-19 cases in its first report since Friday, including four cases among staff and inmates at the Southeast Regional Correctional Centre in Shediac. There are 173 active cases in the province.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador has two new cases, and 15 active cases in all. Some passengers and crew who recently crossed from North Sydney, N.S., to Port aux Basques, N.L., on a Marine Atlantic ferry are being asked to get tested because of a possible exposure. 
  • Prince Edward Island, which does not give a daily update, has had no new cases since Saturday and still has seven active cases, according to the province's COVID-19 website.