New, stringent measures come to N.S. as COVID-19 cases spread

by Charles Mandel

As the number of cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia jumped from seven to 12 (three confirmed, nine presumptive), the provincial government said it is ordering the shut down, effective midnight March 19, of personal services, fitness studios, gyms, body art studios, barbershops, hair salons, cosmetologists, and others who work directly with the public.

The announcement came during a news conference on March 18.

The province also announced that effective immediately all service providers funded through the Department of Community Service's disability support program would be closed to both participants and the public. The premier said they would support those families with respite care through group homes.

Nor did Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil rule closing down more businesses in the days to come. He said they are actively looking at dentists, physiotherapists, "and we'll have more information on that in the days to come."

The premier said, "We can't prevent the virus from coming, but we certainly prevent the spread."

McNeil told the news conference: "We want people home. That is one of the ways we will prevent the spread."

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, told the news conference that "we fully expect to get more positive cases." Strang said it's likely the pandemic will take six to eight weeks to run its course.

"You see one or two cases and then you see more and more cases building...exactly what I would expect to see," Strang said. "What I'm hoping is to limit how rapidly and how high that will be."

Strang warned the pandemic could have "significant impact on communities" and the number of people who fall ill from the virus.

Provincial Health Minister Randy Delorey said doctors could use telephone, and video conferencing if they have the latter technology to deal with patients. He also said employers will no longer be allowed to required any sick notes from employees.

The provincial health department is working the the College of Physicians and Surgeons to waive fees for retired doctors to be re-licenced "to make it faster for them to support our heathcare system." The department is also working to bring in more nurses.

With the current cases, contact was limited to a small number of people, according to Strang.

To date, 1,141 tests for the virus that the province has conducted have come back negative.

Five new cases were identified Tuesday, March 17. Four of the cases are travel-related and one is connected to an earlier case.

A news release from the Nova Scotia government said that Northern Nova Scotia is the only region without a positive case of COVID-19 at this time.

The 12 individuals affected range in age from early 30s to mid-70s. They are all in self-isolation and recovering at home.

Public health has been in contact with these individuals and working to identify others who may have come in close contact with them. Those individuals are also being directed to self-isolate at home, away from the public, for 14 days. They are located across the province.

For its part, the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) said it would no longer allow visitors at any of its hospitals. It will make "compassionate and supportive care exceptions in consultation with the care team for some exceptions, including patients at end-of-life, and a designated person per patient is permitted in labour and delivery rooms;

The authority also said that all Mental Health and Addiction group-based therapies and group programming will be paused. Urgent and non-urgent one-to-one outpatient clinics will continue. Patients will also have the choice to move their in-person sessions to take place over the phone, where appropriate, or through a secure video conferencing platform, where available.

The Mental Health Provincial Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to anyone experiencing a mental health or addictions crisis or someone concerned about them, by calling toll-free 1-888-429-8167.

Kids Help Phone is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, by calling 1-800-668-6868 (toll-free).

There are new or relocated COVID-19 assessment centres open or opening in Shelburne, Bridgewater, Halifax and Dartmouth.

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