Nova Scotia

Health official concerned about COVID-19 cases of unknown origin in Sydney

Health officials have labelled Sydney, N.S., an area of concern when it comes to COVID-19, but have stopped short of saying there is community spread. However, officials have not been able to trace the origins of all of cases, and that's cause for concern.

'We are concerned about the early signals we are seeing,' says health official

People walk into a COVID-19 assessment site at Membertou Entertainment Centre. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Nova Scotia's health authority is taking a close look at COVID-19 cases in the Sydney area.

Sydney has been labelled an area of concern, but officials stopped short of calling the current uptick in cases community spread.

"We don't call this community spread because for most of the cases in the area, we do know where they got their infection and we still are able to do our contact tracing. But we are concerned about the early signals we are seeing," Dr. Austin Zygmunt, a regional medical officer of health for the health authority, told CBC's Information Morning Cape Breton.

As of Monday, there were 119 known active cases in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, according to data on the province's COVID-19 website.

Zygmunt said most cases in the Sydney area have been related to travel or close contacts with other cases. However, it's the cases where the origin is unknown that are cause for concern. 

The province is urging more people in areas of concern, including Sydney, to get tested. Zygmunt said the more people are tested, the better understanding health officials will have of the situation.

"I like to think about the current situation in Sydney right now, kind of like putting together a puzzle without a picture and with some missing pieces. So if every positive case is a puzzle piece, then the more pieces we are able to put together, then the more we will be able to see the picture of what COVID is like in Sydney."

In April, Cape Bretoners came out by the thousands each day to get tested, but over the past couple weeks that number has dropped.

On Monday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang said he would like to see that number climb back up.

People lined up for testing at Membertou Entertainment Centre in April. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

With a previous backlog of tests cleared, residents can once again get asymptomatic tests at primary assessment centres and pop-up sites.

If Sydney's number of cases with unknown origin continue to climb, it could labelled as an area with community spread. However, Zygmunt said there is no specific threshold for when community spread is declared.

"The driver of community spread is having a lot of cases where we aren't able to figure out where people got their infection and we aren't able to find cases through testing in order to stop them from giving COVID to other people," said Zygmunt.

Nova Scotians looking to get tested can find the latest information here.

With files from Information Morning Cape Breton