Dr. Lisa Barrett reflects on 10 days without COVID-19 restrictions in N.S.
Most restrictions and mandatory masking measures in the province were lifted March 21
Dr. Lisa Barrett is an infectious disease specialist and a member of Nova Scotia's expert vaccine panel. She is also recovering from COVID-19.
After Nova Scotia announced its intention to drop most restrictions by March 21, Barrett urged caution and said she saw "no good scientific reason" to end masking requirements.
Barrett spoke Thursday with CBC Radio's Mainstreet Nova Scotia about her COVID-19 diagnosis and what Nova Scotians can expect moving forward.
Her conversation with guest host Carolyn Ray has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.
How would you describe your experience with COVID-19?
I can't say I recommend it.
I think most people will recognize that people around them have symptoms that they can manage at home if they've been vaccinated. But there's also a lot of people, including myself, who have ongoing fatigue for quite a long time.
So just a quick note that it's not exactly a cakewalk.
We know that there are several hundred more Nova Scotia health employees who are off because of COVID-19. We're seeing the number of hospitalizations today, and we're seeing some experts across the country are predicting a sixth wave this spring. What are you seeing or expecting here?
I'm not really too concerned about calling it a wave or not.
When you take away the restrictions when there's a lot of virus in this community and we're still in the process of building what we call hybrid immunity — that's a combination of people who've had the infection and have some immunity added to their vaccine immunity — we are going to see cases go up if we take away restrictions and increase contacts.
Our numbers in Nova Scotia are going up. Our per cent positivity is going up. The number of people in hospital this week is up.
While everyone keeps telling folks that that's expected, it's not insignificant.
You were publicly against lifting the masking mandate on the 21st. Now that we are 10 days out and numbers are going up, are things unravelling as you expected?
I was a fan of keeping masks on faces, not so much about the mandate. As to unravelling, I see lots of masks still on faces and for that I thank Nova Scotians.
Masks on faces, vaccination and lots of testing if you have symptoms, are what we're hoping to see.
Was I expecting hospitalizations to go up? Yes. This is, to me, also expected and unfortunate. But we still have a real good shot here. If we can get lots of people out there testing early to get access to early treatment and not spread to vulnerable people, we've got a good chance ... of not having this turned into something we can't handle, either as families watching people get sick or hospital systems that can't manage it.
Are you surprised about the number of people you're still seeing wearing masks here or is that encouraging to you?
Very encouraging. I would argue [it's] a tool, not a restriction, for us to curb spread — and an important one. We've built a lot of really great habits in this province in particular, and a lot of community-based approaches, including testing. People look after each other.
Should we be worried about Omicron BA.2 here in Nova Scotia?
Oh, yeah. I mean, same air as everywhere else. The good thing in Nova Scotia is we do have some high vaccination rates. I think a key core message here is strain A or B of Omicron [is] exceptionally transmittable. And people should recognize and know that right now, there's not a way that you go out in public that you don't have some contact. The amount of virus in our community is very high.
Do you expect adults will be lining up for fourth shots in the coming months?
I know that our national agencies are working on guidance for surges or times of really high community spread and case numbers.
Just like with the third doses, we've seen that boosters in those situations can be helpful at limiting spread. We certainly are going to go into a situation right now where we're going to see an uptick in cases, I would expect. Might an extra dose be helpful for some people? Maybe.
But the exact timing of that and who's actually going to be best served with getting that additional dose is not quite clear yet.
Yesterday we spoke with the head of an immunocompromised group here in Canada, and she said she was worried about the numbers going up across the country and what it meant for people who were high risk. What is your best advice for people who are feeling nervous right now?
It would have been nice had we gotten through this next period without a big surge in cases, but that's not going to happen.
Know what your risk is and have an assessment as you go forward. Being OK socially with saying to people you want folks around you to be fully vaccinated is a good thing. Wear masks, wear them well and wear the best mask you can afford to buy.
Don't be anxious, but be aware, be informed.... For the next number of weeks, at least know that there's a very large amount of virus around, and take all the steps around you and ask your family and friends to do the same to help you stay safe.
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With files from Mainstreet Nova Scotia