Irving travel exemption should never have been approved, says Strang
Review was sparked by concerns from employees at Halifax shipyard
Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health says he never should have approved a plan to allow three executives from Irving Shipbuilding to travel to America to meet with contractors and then return to work without having to self-isolate for 14 days.
The executives had approval from Dr. Robert Strang's office ahead of taking the trip. It included strict criteria they had to follow upon their return, including being tested for COVID-19 immediately. But when workers at the Halifax shipyard learned of the exception and complained to Strang's office, he revisited the situation.
On Wednesday, he ordered the three executives home to self-isolate for 14 days and said the company could no longer engage in business travel to America. An Irving spokesperson said Wednesday that the executives complied with all rules attached to the exception.
During a COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, Strang said his review didn't include whether any of the executives from Irving violated the guidelines established as part of their exception. But he said upon reviewing the plan a second time, it was clear he shouldn't have signed off on it in the first place.
"Even though safety requirements were part of my approval, the meetings could have been done virtually," Strang said. "Upon return, the individuals can isolate at home and still manage to work."
Exceptions will continue to be granted
Strang couldn't say how many exceptions his office has granted, but said he's approved plans for workers to come into the province to do work that requires specialized skills and will continue to do so as deemed appropriate. Each request is judged on its own merits and Strang said his office has turned down a number of requests.
"I've even turned around a planeload of workers who were in the air, about to land in Nova Scotia because I couldn't approve the plan because it didn't provide the right level of COVID safety," he said.
In evaluating requests for exceptions, Strang said the lens he views things through is "appropriate protection for [the public's] health and safety. He would only review plans if people raise issues about them. Although it's not his job to inform employees when a workplace receives an exception, Strang said employers should.
"The expectation would be that the company [receiving the exception] would have the appropriate communications so people are aware and they can understand what protocols are being put in place to keep them safe on the worksite," he said.
His office reviews many plans and requests and Strang said the response won't always be perfect.
"I'm not going to get everything I do, of the hundreds of decisions I make every week on this, I will acknowledge that I may not get everything exactly right," Strang said.
"But I'm always happy to go back and learn from my mistakes and certainly be looking more intensely about how we make sure that we focus only on essential travel into the province where there is no other alternative."
4 active cases
Nova Scotia reported zero new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, with four active cases remaining in the province.
The microbiology lab at the QEII Health Sciences Centre completed 398 tests on Wednesday and continues to operate 24 hours a day.
To date, Nova Scotia has had 56,227 negative test results, 1,066 positive cases and 63 deaths caused by the coronavirus. One person who previously tested positive for COVID-19 is still in hospital, but the case is now considered resolved.
Proper health and safety protocols
Strang encouraged people to continue washing their hands frequently, keeping surfaces clean and practising proper cough etiquette by coughing into their sleeve or elbow.
He continues to strongly recommend people wear masks when they are in public places where physical distancing isn't possible and had meetings planned with his federal counterparts Thursday to discuss mask protocol. People should bring a mask with them whenever they leave home, the way they take their keys or wallet, said Strang.
Premier Stephen McNeil said he's now wearing a mask when he's indoors in a confined space or someone's place of work.
"I've been out to dinner a couple of times this week [and] I wore a mask into that environment," he said.
People with one or more of the following COVID-19 symptoms are asked to visit 811's website:
- Fever (chills, sweats).
- Cough or worsening of a previous cough.
- Sore throat.
- Shortness of breath.
- Muscle aches.
- Nasal congestion/runny nose.
- Hoarse voice.
- Unusual fatigue.
- Loss of sense of smell or taste.
- Red, purple or bluish lesions on the feet, toes or fingers that do not have a clear cause.