News conference on COVID-19 cases heard how a Bridgewater individual violated the self-isolation mandate after international travel

by Charles Mandel

A news conference on the first three presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia heard from a concerned caller who asked what could be done about people who refused to self-isolate after international travel.

The caller, who wasn't identified, told the news conference that an individual in Bridgewater went into a nursing home there shortly after returning to the province, and insisted upon visiting the home even after being told he or she should self-isolate.

Dr. Robert Strang, the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health, emphasized at the news conference that was exactly why they'd clamped down on nursing home and other visitations so that they elderly population could be protected from the highly contagious virus.

The three individuals identified by the province as presumptive but still waiting confirmation of a positive COVID-19 identification from Canada's National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg came from Australia, Europe and the U.S. One was detected on March 8, another on March 10 and the third of March 13.

The province announced the three presumptive cases on March 15.

One is a female in her 60s, the second is a male in his late 50s, and the third is a male in his 30s.

Two individuals are in the Halifax Regional Municipality and one is in Kings County. All three are managing their symptoms at home in self-isolation.

Strang said they've traced back all the contact these individuals have had with others since their return and noted that it was fortunately a relatively small group of people.

Public health has been in contact with those individuals and those who have come in close contact with them are also being directed to self-isolate at home, away from the public, for 14 days.

As of March 15, Nova Scotia has completed 418 tests for COVID-19, with 415 negative results and three presumptive positive cases. Testing numbers are updated daily at https://novascotia.ca/coronavirus

Strang reinforced at the news conference that people should self-isolate immediately upon return from international travel.

Questioned about the lack of screening at airports, the news conference heard that it wasn't being done as many individuals wouldn't yet be showing symptoms of the virus at the time of travel.

The news conference also heard that instead of over-whelming the 811 system with calls that they should first go to the 811 website where a tool for self-assessment was available. However, during the news conference this reporter checked the 811 N.S. website several times only to each time get a message saying the "service was unavailable."

Both Premier Stephen McNeill and Strang denounced the stockpiling of groceries that's emptying shelves of food, toilet paper and other items across the province. McNeill said people should figure out what they would need for a two-week period of self-isolation, and plan accordingly.

In response to the first cases of the virus in the province, the provincial government immediately announced a number of measures under the authority of the Health Protection Act, including: long-term care facilities closed to visitors effectively immediately; public schools closed for two weeks following March Break (weeks of March 23 and March 30) which will then will be reassessed; regulated child care centres closed March 17 to April 3 and which will also be reassessed; and the cancellation of March break camps.

Other measures include: casinos in Halifax and Sydney are closed as of 12 a.m. March 16 and bar owners can no longer operate VLTs; anyone who travelled outside of Canada must self-isolate even if symptom-free; organizations and businesses must practise social distancing of two metres or six feet and keep gatherings below 150 or much smaller if possible. This applies to restaurants, bars, movie theatres and other gathering spots.

Starting Monday, March 16, public health inspectors will be on site at the Halifax International Airport and the J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport. Work is ongoing with federal partners responsible for border security to strengthen the screening process. As well, both airports now have information on digital screens in all areas frequented by travellers.

Nova Scotians can find accurate, up-to-date information, hand-washing posters and fact sheets at https://novascotia.ca/coronavirus .

The Government of Canada has issued a travel advisory asking Canadians to avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice.

As well, the public school system will be investigating virtual schools focused on essential curriculum to ensure Grade 12 students can graduate.

As of March 15, Canada had 249 cases of COVID-19, and has recorded one death.

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