Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia reports 15 new COVID-19 cases Monday

Province also announces Nova Scotians aged 60-64 are now eligible for Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines starting today.

Epidemiologist says N.S. could be at early stages of a COVID-19 outbreak

An additional 76,000 Nova Scotians now qualify for the Pfizer and Moderna shots through community clinics. (Stephane Mahe/Reuters)

The province announced Monday the number of new COVID-19 cases jumped to the highest level in more than four months.

Nova Scotia announced 15 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, the highest daily jump since Dec. 4, making for a total of 63 active cases.

Eight of the new cases are in the central zone and four of those are close contacts of previously reported cases. Three are under investigation and one is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada.

Six cases are in eastern zone. One of those is a close contact of a previously reported case and the others are related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada.

One case is in western zone and is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada.

Two people in Nova Scotia are in hospital with the coronavirus.

"The increase in case numbers is a reminder of the importance of the restrictions that are in place to protect the health of fellow Nova Scotians," said Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, in a news release.

"We need to continue to keep each other safe, follow public health protocols and get the vaccine when it is our turn."

Testing encouraged

In the same news release, Premier Iain Rankin encouraged Nova Scotians to get tested.

"As we've seen in other provinces, the situation can change rapidly ... Testing is key to detecting cases early on and limiting the spread of the virus," Rankin said. 

There are currently 26 active potential exposure notices for sites across the central and western health zones, along with 15 potential exposures on flights and ferries that recently entered the province.

On Monday evening, Nova Scotia Health announced potential exposures at four more locations in the central zone and two flights into Halifax. It also updated an April 13 exposure warning at the Halifax Shopping Centre to include all stores in the mall.

Over the weekend, the province announced the closure of two elementary schools in the Halifax area because of COVID-19 cases, as well as two cases in a private long-term care home and the infection of a health-care worker, which has forced eight other workers into isolation.

The cases in schools were announced late Sunday evening and counted as part of Monday's tally. The province said the case at South Woodside Elementary School is connected to a previously reported case, while the case at St. Joseph's-Alexander McKay Elementary School is under investigation.

A possible tipping point, epidemiologist says

"What we're seeing now is kind of what you might see at the early stages of an outbreak, but it doesn't necessarily mean there's an outbreak," said Kevin Wilson, an epidemiologist based in Halifax.

Wilson said the important thing for the public to do now is to follow public health measures such as masking, physical distancing, keeping a tight social circle, getting tested and avoiding inter-provincial travel wherever possible, as outbreaks in the rest of Canada elevate the risk within Atlantic Canada.

"A lot of times, especially in the Atlantic provinces, you don't know you're in an outbreak until you are very obviously in an outbreak," Wilson said.

He said the most dramatic example of this was the outbreak in St. John's in February, where cases went from a handful to 100 new daily cases over the course of four days.

"Our base level is that we don't have any COVID here in the community, and then we find out that actually there's been a small cluster percolating somewhere for three weeks, and people have been kind of ignoring their symptoms or not getting tested, and all of a sudden it's like, oh, this has ballooned into a cluster," Wilson said.

Wilson said that as an epidemiologist the first thing he looks for is untraced cases. He said while there is occasionally a lone untraced case where Public Health is unable to determine the source, it's more concerning when that happens multiple times and multiple days in a row.

"That tends to be what I look for. So exposure notices and untraced cases are usually kind of the leading edge. It could still be nothing; we've had that happen before," he said, adding there have been times when a slight increase in exposures has not lead to an outbreak.

Regardless, Wilson said this is a time to be a bit extra cautious and to wait to see what happens in the coming days.

"That's what the early days of St. John's looked like, it's what the early days of the second cluster in Halifax looked like. It started with a few untraced cases, and then it kept going."

Pfizer, Moderna vaccine eligibility expanded

Nova Scotians aged 60 to 64 are now eligible for both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines effective immediately, the province announced Monday. 

Previously, the two brands were restricted to people aged 65 and up, but the province announced the expanded eligibility Monday morning. The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is also still an option for anyone aged 55-64.

Cathy Faulkner in the waiting area after receiving her COVID-19 vaccine at a walk-in clinic in Truro, N.S., in March. (Communications Nova Scotia)

All vaccine appointments for community clinics at pharmacies and primary care centres are booked online or by phone at 1-833-797-7772.

According to the Department of Health and Wellness, there are 75,944 Nova Scotians in the 60-64 age group.

When the province opened vaccine eligibility for the 65-69 age group, Premier Iain Rankin said due to the large number of people in that group — 66,139 — it would likely be several weeks before it could drop to the next age bracket. That was only 10 days ago.

In a news release announcing the expanded eligibility on Monday, a specific explanation for the change was not provided. The release said appointments for all vaccines are released "as vaccine supply is confirmed."

On Friday, Moderna announced it would be slashing its spring allocation to Canada by one to two million doses. However, on the same day, Ottawa said it had signed a new agreement with Pfizer for eight million additional doses of that brand of vaccine.

Atlantic Canada case numbers

  • New Brunswick reported nine new cases on Monday for a total of 158 known active cases. Twenty people are in hospital, including 12 in intensive care.
  • P.E.I. announced three new cases on Monday for a total of 13 active cases.Two people are in hospital, with one in intensive care, marking the province's first hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador reported three new cases Monday for a total of 25 active cases.