Nova Scotia

What you need to know about Nova Scotia's COVID-19 reopening plan

Nova Scotia has a three-phase reopening plan that begins on Feb. 14. Each phase is expected to last about one month, depending on the number and severity of new cases.

First of 3 phases starts on Monday

Masking and proof-of-vaccination requirements are likely to be the last COVID-19 restrictions to lift. (Robert Short/CBC)

Although COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the province, and hospitals are operating over capacity, Nova Scotia is getting ready to drop pandemic restrictions in a three-step reopening plan that begins next week.

Premier Tim Houston said that it's time for Nova Scotia "to acknowledge the necessity of continuing to move forward" when he unveiled the plan at a news conference Wednesday,

Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said he believes reopening can be accomplished safely, but it requires a delicate balancing act.

He said he's looking to protect the health-care system and people who are most vulnerable to severe outcomes from infection. But he also noted the need to ease restrictions for the sake of the economy, and the overall physical and mental well-being of Nova Scotians.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang are shown at a COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday where they unveiled the province's reopening plan. (Communications Nova Scotia)

Here's how Nova Scotia will try to strike that balance.

Timeline

Phase 1 of the reopening plan starts Feb. 14 and is expected to last about one month. No firm date has been attached to subsequent phases, because timing will be contingent on several factors, including:

  • Declining hospital cases and new admissions.
  • Declining overall case counts.
  • Declining cases in long-term care.
  • Improvements in hospital capacity and workforce pressures.
  • Continued improvement in population immunity from vaccination and infections.

If each phase follows the estimated one-month timeline, most restrictions could be gone when the province enters Phase 3 around mid-April.

Highlights from each phase

Phase 1 (starting Feb. 14):

  • Gathering limits increase in public and private settings.
  • Workplaces can start bringing employees back into offices and warehouses, in phases.
  • In-person arts and culture events and performances can resume, at limited capacity.
  • Spectators can return to sporting events, at limited capacity. No tournaments allowed, yet.
  • Faith services can operate at 50 per cent of the venue's capacity.
  • Long-term care residents are still limited to two visitors at a time, but it no longer has to be the same two visitors at each visit.
  • Border restrictions lifted for domestic travellers, regardless of vaccination status. 
Nursing homes have been tightly restricted throughout the pandemic, sometimes barring all visitors. Some families made window visits when they couldn't go inside. (Submitted by Krista Beeler)

Phase 2 (potentially starting mid-March)

  • Gathering limits increase, again. Some businesses and venues can return to maximum capacity.
  • Workplaces can continue bringing employees back into offices and warehouses, in phases.
  • Movie goers can eat at their seats in theatres.
  • Sports tournaments can resume, at limited capacity.
  • Faith services can operate at 100 per cent of the venue's capacity.
  • Changes in long-term care are yet to be determined.

Phase 3 (potentially starting mid-April)

  • All capacity and gathering limits lifted.
  • Changes in long-term care are yet to be determined.

Read the full reopening plan here.

Masking and proof-of-vaccination

Requirements to wear masks indoors and show proof-of-vaccination for discretionary activities are expected to stay in place for at least the first two phases. Those mandates could lift at the start of Phase 3, but that timing is not set in stone. They are likely to be the last of the COVID-19 restrictions to stay in place.

Nova Scotia's testing strategy throughout the reopening phases has not been determined. (Robert Short/CBC)

Strang said he believes those two measures are especially important to keep in place as people start to gather in larger groups. 

"What we're doing is substantively helping protect the health-care system by ... [minimizing] the chance of anybody from the gathering getting affected and getting severe illness and ending up in hospital," he said.

The future of testing

The future of testing, case management, contact tracing and general surveillance of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia is not yet clear.

At the announcement of the reopening plan, Strang said Public Health is looking at those components of the pandemic response now. 

"We'll be talking more about how we evolve those into this living with COVID along with lifting restrictions. So we'll have more to say in the ... the next couple weeks around how we evolve our testing strategy."

For much of the pandemic, Nova Scotia offered asymptomatic COVID-19 tests widely — both rapid antigen tests and PCR tests — and Public Health followed up every PCR positive result.

That changed when the Omicron wave erupted in December, adding strain to a health-care system that was already stressed.

Testing opportunities and contact tracing were limited based on symptoms and risk levels. Individuals were advised to monitor their cases from home.

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