Nova Scotia

Why Public Health doesn't alert Nova Scotians to every possible COVID-19 exposure

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in Nova Scotia, more possible exposure notifications are being released.

If all close contacts can't be traced, a possible exposure notice is released

Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said a possible COVID-19 exposure notification will only be sent out if all contacts can't be traced. (CBC)

The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in Nova Scotia and that means more and more possible exposures are being released by the province each day.

These notifications are important tools used by the province because they are only released to the public if all possible contacts can't be traced.

"As much as possible, we follow up directly with individuals," Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said at a news briefing last week.

"If we can't, that's when we use a public notification."

As of Monday, there have been more than 150 exposure sites in Nova Scotia, most in the Halifax region. A full list of exposures can be found here.

However, an exposure notification will not be used if all possible contacts can be identified.

"We can alert specific people who may have been exposed because we have the means to contact them directly; for example, this could include attendees of an event or staff at a business," Brendan Elliott, a spokesperson with Nova Scotia Public Health, said in an emailed statement Monday. 

"They may be provided information about a potential exposure and then given direction on what to do next."

Contact tracing ahead of notification

That is why contact tracing is so important, Elliott said.

When a new case is identified, Public Health will contact the individual to determine with whom they've been in contact, starting 48 hours before symptoms appeared, or 48 hours before their test if they have no symptoms.

Public health will also ask where that person has been, like grocery stores or restaurants.

This list of people and businesses will then be notified and sorted into three categories: low risk, moderate risk and high risk. High risk is considered a close contact — an individual who had been within two metres of the infected person for 15 minutes or longer.

"The people conducting contact tracing are working to connect the dots," Elliott said.

"When a person visits an establishment (or takes a flight, etc.) where there were a number of people, it can be difficult to connect every dot (find everyone who was present at that point in time). That might be a situation where a public advisory is issued."

This has been the case in many Halifax restaurants and bars this past month, which led Premier Stephen McNeil to impose more restrictions in the region.

Any identified close contacts will be advised to get tested and will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

But if all contacts can be identified, an exposure notification does not need to be released.

Exposure notices coming from businesses

This has led to confusion in recent weeks as some businesses have released their own possible exposure notices.

"If a business is sending out their own notification and it's not accompanied by a public exposure advisory from us, then it means the business or organization has decided to do it on their own," Elliott said.

One example is the Sackville Arena. A notice was sent out by the Sackville Minor Hockey Association about a possible exposure on Nov. 21, but Public Health didn't release a notification.

"I know it can be difficult when people hear about potential exposures, but don't see an official notification from Public Health," he said. 

"This environment is already stressful enough for Nova Scotians, but rest assured if Public Health feels a public notification is warranted, one will be issued."

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