N.S. defends COVID-19 response as 3 more deaths announced at Northwood
'We were doing everything that was entirely possible to prevent and then respond to the outbreak'
Nova Scotia announced three more deaths from COVID-19 at the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax on Tuesday and defended its response to the virus.
Northwood has been dealing with the province's most significant outbreak of the disease, with 35 deaths reported at the facility. Provincewide, there have been only six more deaths attributed to COVID-19.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang said Northwood did everything it could do with the information it had at the time to prevent the spread of the virus.
The initial response at Northwood, he said, was based on "best practices around long-term care infection control and outbreak management.
"I don't want people to think that with that nothing was being done. We were doing everything that was entirely possible to prevent and then respond to the outbreak," Strang said.
Northwood is scheduled to provide an update on its response to COVID-19 at a press briefing on Wednesday.
Premier Stephen McNeil said he wants to reassure families with loved ones at Northwood that the province is doing "everything we can to get the virus out" of Northwood.
Out of 454 new COVID-19 tests, public health identified six new cases of the disease on Monday, while 14 more people recovered.
Strang said the lab has the capacity to do at least three times that much testing. He encouraged people with two or more COVID-19 symptoms to look into testing.
Six individuals are currently being treated in hospital and two of them are in intensive care.
'A wretched disease,' says premier
As of the province's reporting, a total of 991 people had tested positive for the virus in Nova Scotia, 652 had recovered and 41 had died, leaving 298 active cases.
"This is a wretched disease and I am sorry to the families for your loss," McNeil said.
Strang said last week there was no longer any active spread of the virus in long-term care, outside of Northwood.
He said all of the COVID-19 fatalities at Northwood have been residents.
Strang said it's difficult to see the number of deaths reported.
"It's tragic, it breaks my heart when I see the numbers every day," he said.
"And I really feel for families and individuals, but I want Nova Scotians to understand that the health-care system has and will continue to take this circumstance very seriously."
Since April 21, the province has been reporting that 10 long-term care homes had cases of COVID-19, but on Tuesday that number rose to 11.
NSGEU calls for inquiry into Northwood deaths
The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union is calling for an inquiry into the deaths at Northwood.
Jason McLean, NSGEU president, said there are still unanswered questions.
"If workers had the protective equipment that they really needed to do their jobs, they would have been protected at work, they would've protected themselves from each other and protected their clients from themselves," he said.
"Things were lagging and things took so long in order to allow people to wear masks or have more personal protective equipment."
MacLean said the union isn't looking for an inquiry any time soon, but he said there are lessons to be learned from the outbreak and how it was handled.
When asked about an inquiry, McNeil said the focus right now is on the virus.
"We're working very hard with unions across the province to be sure we deal with COVID-19 in our province," he said.
Bulk of positive tests in central zone
Nova Scotia has been reporting few details about the specific locations of confirmed cases, citing privacy concerns. The province provides tallies for each of the four health regions, and the bulk of positive tests, 846, have been in the central zone, which includes Halifax.
Since mid-April, the province has been giving broad data about cases in long-term care.
Some long-term care homes have been independently sharing their own COVID-19 data, including Northwood. As of Monday, Northwood had 260 active cases among residents and staff.
Northwood has been moving recovered patients into an off-site recovery unit in a hotel to make more room for isolation and containment inside the building. Twenty-two people have been moved to the recovery unit.
No word on when economy will reopen
McNeil said he was happy to hear people enjoyed themselves at parks over the weekend.
"To be able to see Nova Scotians out and moving around our province is a positive thing and I was beyond happy considering the amount of sadness this province has seen," he said.
But when it comes to lifting more restrictions around businesses, McNeil said talks are happening.
"Epidemiology will determine when we go forward," he said. "What we said and the work we're doing right now is reviewing some of the plans these associations brought in, having them reviewed by public health so they can tell them whether or not they will pass."
The following is a list of symptoms for COVID-19:
- New or worsening cough.
- Sore throat.
- Runny nose.
Anyone with two or more of those symptoms should visit 811's website for a self-assessment questionnaire to determine if 811 should be called for further assessment.
With files from Olivier Lefebvre