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COVID-19 cases jump by 32 in Nova Scotia; province expands screening for virus

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer, wears a medically themed tie at the province's COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. - Communications Nova Scotia
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer, wears a medically themed tie at the province's COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday - Communications Nova Scotia - Contributed


More people - possibly a lot more - will be tested for COVID-19 in Nova Scotia after screening criteria was expanded Wednesday. 

With the spread of the respiratory virus into the community, public health has dropped travel-related conditions and added several symptoms to the 811 screening process.

"This is based on, as we get more and more experience globally as well as in Canada, understanding what are the symptoms that people with COVID-19 are likely to present with," Dr. Robert Strang said at Wednesday's COVID-19 briefing with Premer Stephen McNeil.

"Now if people are concerned about having COVID and they go to the 811 website or where screening is happening in other places potentially, the symptoms are fever, new or worsening cough, headache, sore throat, runny nose. If people have two or more of those symptoms, there's a possibility they may have COVID infection and those are the people who we're looking to be testing."

Strang couldn't say exactly what kind of increase in tests and confirmed cases he expects will result from the expanded screening. 

"I certainly anticipate as we test more people, we're going to get more positives," he said. "All the indications are that we have is, even though we talk about community spread, it is not wide community spread except for one area of the province (the Preston-Enfield area). So I anticipate we've not likely to see a huge increase in positives but I am certainly expecting, and the public should expect to see, the more people we test, the more positives we'll find.

"But that's a good thing. It'll show us the extent of community spread that we actually have."

Strang said he believes the 811 system will be able to deal with the possibly much bigger caseload but that issue will be monitored. 

The number of COVID-19 cases rose to 342 in Nova Scotia with 32 more cases reported on Wednesday. 

That's the largest daily increase so far during the pandemic as the outbreak spreads beyond travel-related cases into the community. 

Eleven people were hospitalized with the respiratory virus and 77 have recovered, the Health Department said Wednesday, the day after the first death related to the outbreak was reported. A woman with underlying health conditions in her 70s died Monday in the Eastern zone.

Sources told the Cape Breton Post that she was a patient in the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney and that many staff have been told to self-isolate

There were 342 COVID-19 cases in Nova Scotia on Wednesday. - Nova Scotia Health Authority
There were 342 COVID-19 cases in Nova Scotia on Wednesday. - Nova Scotia Health Authority

Misleading 911 calls

As of Wednesday, 11,688 people had been tested for the virus in Nova Scotia. The testing lab at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax has ramped up to a 24/7 operation and aims to do 1,000 tests per day.

In his remarks Wednesday, Strang expressed frustration that some people continue to call 911 saying they think they have COVID-19, apparently in order to get a faster response from Emergency Health Services. 

That means paramedics must don protective gear and deal with the anxiety related to treating someone with a contagious disease, Strang said. 

“Lo and behold, they show up and the person says I don’t actually have COVID-19 symptoms. … That has to stop. 911 has a process that people will be triaged no matter what symptoms people have and they’ll get the timely attention they need based on the urgency of their symptoms. … It’s a waste of resources and precious personal protective equipment in our health-care system.”

The issue of protective gear, particularly N95 particulate respirator masks, has become an issue because Nova Scotia recently decided to equip all frontline health-care staff with them. The province is also looking into whether the masks should be provided across health care, including the long-term-care system. 

The premier has said the province has about a month's supply of N95 masks and other personal protective equipment so there are no worries about shortages at the moment. 

At his daily briefing Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada has received 500,000 N95 masks from the manufacturer 3M. It’s not known how many of those masks particular provinces will receive. 

In his remarks, the premier acknowledged the stress that social distancing and isolation measures that have been in place for almost a month has created, particularly for families with children.

“The weather’s getting better, the novelty of puzzles and board games and family fun is wearing thin,” McNeil said. “To mums and dads and primary caregivers, I know how hard this is for you. You’re trying to keep your children entertained. You’re trying to turn your kitchen into a classroom - in the middle of all that, some of you are trying to work from home, and most of all, you’re trying to keep your kids indoors.

“This is a tough job and I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this. . . . Thank you for all that you do every day and I’m asking you now as primary caregivers to dig deep, stay focused, stay safe and protect your children.”

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