Nova Scotia

N.S. currently has enough supplies, staff to fight COVID-19, says health authority CEO

Dr. Brendan Carr, the CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, says even though the province has what it needs right now, it’s up to every Nova Scotian to pitch in and act ‘as if we could have the virus at any moment in time.’

About 60 physicians in self-isolation, another 23 travelling back to N.S. this week

Dr. Brendan Carr became the president and CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority in December. (Robert Short/CBC)

The head of the Nova Scotia Health Authority says the province has enough staff and supplies right now to fight COVID-19, and it's working hard to make sure it stays that way.

Dr. Brendan Carr told CBC's Information Morning on Wednesday that the province "has a very healthy supply" of medical equipment like tests and ventilators. On Sunday, Premier Stephen McNeil told reporters 140 more ventilators were on the way to add to a supply of about 240. 

"We're not at all close to running out of them, and we don't need any public panic around [that]," said Carr, the president and CEO of the health authority. "The fact is we actually have a very healthy supply. We have a surplus."

Carr said even though some doctors are now in self-isolation after travelling outside the country, there are enough health-care providers to assess and treat patients without yet relying on retired nurses and doctors who are on standby.

As of Wednesday, Carr said about 60 physicians are back from recent trips abroad and self-isolating, and another 23 physicians are on their way back this week. There are about 2,500 licensed doctors across the province, he added. 

"I think many people saw what was coming and made the decision not to travel because they knew they needed to be here to help out when the time came," he said.

Carr said one of the big lessons he's learned from his colleagues elsewhere in the country is the need to first slow down the spread of the virus, and secondly, be responsible early on about conserving equipment.

The province announced two more presumptive cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases to seven. Carr said assessment centres are seeing on average 125 people a day across the province, and most people who show up are being tested for the virus.

"So the screening that 811 is doing is effective," he said. "I think we're getting the right people tested early."

Pitching in to help

On Tuesday, the health authority and IWK Health Centre said they're suspending all non-urgent services to prepare for COVID-19's impact on the health-care system.

Carr said with fewer patients, staff are now being deployed to areas where they're needed most. 

There has also been "a tremendous outpouring" of support from recently retired doctors and nurses who want to help, he said.

When the call went out for health-care professionals to staff the province's assessment centres, Carr said 250 signed up, and among them were 60 retired nurses.

"Nova Scotia is full of people who are prepared to help and who care about their neighbours, and a lot of those are health-care providers," he said. 

Carr said at this point, retired health-care professionals are on standby as the health authority works with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia College of Nursing to figure out how to put them to work when they're needed. 

Act like you have the virus 

Carr reiterated that COVID-19 is primarily transmitted by "droplet spread" and personal contact, and that's why he said being strict about social distancing and self-isolation is so important. 

"Some organisms like measles and tuberculosis … if they're just in the air you're breathing, they spread," he said. "With this virus … somebody who's in close proximity, you cough in their face, or you cough on a surface they're sitting at and they touch their hand to that and they touch their face and it gets onto the mucus membrane and into their system."

Self-isolation does not mean meeting up with friends, he said, adding it's a conversation he's had to have with his four kids who are all university age. 

"Even if we feel well, we could still have this virus," Carr said. "We could be spreading it, so we all just need to be acting as if we could have the virus at any moment in time."