Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia to start lifting COVID-19 restrictions Monday

During a press briefing on Wednesday, Premier Tim Houston said Nova Scotia is ready to make gradual changes in lifting restrictions. Nova Scotia reported 5 deaths due to COVID-19 on Wednesday.

Sports, arts and culture events will be able to resume, capacity increases for gyms and retail

Premier Tim Houston, left, and Dr. Robert Strang speak at a COVID-19 briefing on Jan. 19, 2022. (CBC)

Nova Scotia has passed the peak of the Omicron wave, allowing the province to begin easing public health restrictions in the coming days, even as it announced five more deaths related to COVID-19 on Wednesday.

Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, told a news briefing it appeared the worst of the wave was behind Nova Scotians, with labs processing fewer positive tests, outbreaks under control, and positive cases declining in long-term care facilities.

He said new admissions to hospital have also reached their peak, but he cautioned the health-care system remains under "tremendous pressure," with bed occupancy at 105 per cent.

Still, Strang said it was time to start lifting restrictions under a phased approach beginning Monday, Feb. 14.

"We will continue to carefully balance limiting the impact of Omicron on our most vulnerable and our health-care system while starting to get back to normal," said Strang, while acknowledging the emotional, physical and economical impacts that public health restrictions have had on Nova Scotians.

Phased approach

Strang said restrictions will be lifted in three phases, with each phase lasting about a month.

  • In Phase 1, which begins Monday at 12:01 a.m., events will be allowed again, gathering limits will increase and all border restrictions for domestic travellers will be lifted.
  • In Phase 2, gathering limits will be further increased.
  • In Phase 3, there will be no more gathering limits or physical distance requirements.

Moving to the next phase will depend on epidemiology, hospitalizations, case activity in long-term care facilities and employee absenteeism.

For the first two phases, masks will still be required in indoor public spaces and proof of full vaccination will be required for discretionary activities. The masks and proof of vaccination may still be in place for the third phase depending on the epidemiology. 

Beginning Monday, gathering limits will be loosened on sports and arts and culture events (up to 60 people allowed), retail stores will be permitted to operate at 100 per cent capacity, and gyms will be able to open at 75 per cent capacity. 

Events like weddings, funerals and faith services will be able to resume. Informal events will be able to have up to 25 people, while indoor and outdoor formal gatherings will be limited to 50 per cent capacity of a venue. Cosmetologists will be able to resume all services.

In the province's long-term care homes, residents will be allowed to have two visitors at a time, and those visitors no longer need to be the same two people. Visitors must still wear masks and be fully vaccinated, except in cases of end-of-life visits.

Strang says convoy did not influence decision

Strang credited the province's high vaccination rate and compliance with public health orders with allowing restrictions to be loosened. 

He took a swipe at the protests unfolding in Ottawa, saying the loosening of restrictions is based on evolving science and "is in no way a response" to the convoy of trucks, dubbed Freedom Convoy 2022.

"True shared freedom comes from love, caring and compassion — not from self-centred views, division and anger," Strang said.

He said the province would continue to look for declining case numbers and improving conditions in health centres.

Raises for continuing care assistants

Acknowledging the strain the pandemic has had on continuing care assistants in the province, Premier Tim Houston said the government would move to increase their pay starting Thursday. The increases will be between 20 and 25 per cent. It applies to unionized and non-unionized CCAs at all levels in the publicly funded sector.

This will bring the top annual salary to $48,419. According to the province, for most full-time CCAs, the increase is close to $9,000. Those currently at the top of their pay scale will reach this level immediately, the province said in a news release.

"We will make Nova Scotia a pay leader with the raises," Houston said. "My message to those of you who have felt undervalued to the point that you left the profession, please come back."

Houston said "it's very clear the underpayment is having a significant impact on our hospitals and on our ability to care for our seniors."

Update on deaths, hospitalizations

On Wednesday, Nova Scotia announced five deaths due to COVID-19: a woman in her 60s in the northern zone, a woman in her 70s in the western zone, a woman in her 80s in the eastern zone and two women in their 90s in the central zone.

The province reported 91 people in a designated COVID-19 hospital unit, including 16 in intensive care.

The age range for those in hospital is 0 to 95 years old. The average age of those in hospital is 63, and those in hospital stay for an average of 8.4 days.

Since the Omicron wave began on Dec. 8, 56 Nova Scotians have died because of COVID-19.

Of those in hospital:

  • Twenty-two people have had a third dose of vaccine.
  • Thirty-two people are fully vaccinated with two doses.
  • One person is partially vaccinated.
  • Thirty-six people are unvaccinated.

Currently, unvaccinated Nova Scotians are about 4.5 times more likely to be hospitalized or die due to COVID-19 than someone with two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. That is based on average hospitalizations since the province started releasing daily hospitalization numbers by vaccine status on Jan. 4.

Unvaccinated people are also more than seven times as likely to die of COVID-19 than someone who had received a booster dose.

There are two other groups of people in hospital related to COVID-19:

  • 135 people who were identified as positive upon arrival at hospital but were admitted for another medical reason, or were admitted for COVID-19 but no longer require specialized care.
  • 141 people who contracted COVID-19 after being admitted to hospital.

On Tuesday, volunteers assembling rapid COVID-19 tests celebrated the milestone of putting together one million kits.

Additional shots recommended for some children, teens

Nova Scotia announced Wednesday it is recommending additional COVID-19 shots under certain circumstances for people between the ages of five and 17.

The province is recommending additional boosters for young people who are immunocompromised, those who live in crowded settings such as group homes, and people of colour or those who come from marginalized communities that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. 

Immunocompromised children ages five to 11 are also now eligible for a third dose 56 days after their second dose. 

COVID-19 booster shots for teens haven't yet been approved by Health Canada, but Strang said the National Advisory Committee on Immunization has indicated that so far the safety concerns are no different than with two doses in parts of the world where adolescents have been given boosters.

Number of cases

Nova Scotia labs completed 2,718 tests on Tuesday and reported an additional 365 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 117 cases in the central zone, 59 cases in the eastern zone, 82 cases in the northern zone and 107 cases in the western zone.

As of Wednesday, there were an estimated 3,232 active cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia.

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