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Nova Scotia continues to experience staffing shortages due to COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic's widening reach has exposed workplaces across Nova Scotia and continues to send hundreds of health-care workers and other workers into isolation.

In Halifax, ferry and bus services are still disrupted as dozens of workers are off isolating or sick because of COVID-19.

Shane O’Leary, vice president of ATU 508, estimates about 150 to 160 people are currently off work.

“And that’s quite a substantial amount when you’re talking a thousand ATU members,” O’Leary said.

COVID-19 has also crept into fire halls. According to the Halifax Professional Fire Fighters Association, about 10 firefighters in Halifax have the virus and 29 more are isolating.

“We’re keeping stations open through excessive amounts of overtime and if you call 911, we’re coming,” Capt. Brendan Meagher said. “We need reinforcements.”

As in all sectors, the number of workers off each day fluctuates.

Charbel Daniel, executive director of Provincial Operations with EHS, says about 49 paramedics of its more than 1,200 staff are currently isolating.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic we have been developing contingency plans,” Daniel said.

As of Thursday, Nova Scotia Health Authority said 715 of its 21,700 employees are off work.  Nova Scotia Nurses' Union estimates about 300 are their members.

“I would say the biggest challenge we’re having is both in long-term care and in community care which would be your VON,” Janet Hazelton said, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union.

An already stressed system is now under tremendous pressure. For months, there have been warnings about longer wait times in emergency rooms due to higher volumes of patients.

Recently, Nova Scotia Health (NSH) has cancelled some tests and procedures.  As of Thursday, NSH said 354 people are in hospital waiting to be placed into long-term care facilities.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, has said hospitals are over capacity and is urging Nova Scotians to protect the health-care system.

Hazelton believes the system has been over capacity for years and COVID-19 has simply shone a light on a system that’s already fragile. 

As of Thursday, 48 COVID-19 patients were in hospital in Nova Scotia, with nine in intensive care.

“We don’t have that many patients as you know in hospital. It shouldn’t be crippling the system. It’s not that that’s crippling the system,” Hazelton said. “It’s the system itself is not adequate. We don’t have enough staff to care for the patients that are in the system.”

On Wednesday, isolation rules changed in the province.

Fully vaccinated people can leave isolation after seven days if symptoms are gone. But new rules don’t apply to workers in high-risk health care settings, such as hospitals, home-care or long-term care facilities.

“They still have their own processes they have to through occupational health,” said Jason MacLean, president of Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU). 

“Our members are dealing with the public and serving the public every day and you don’t want anybody that works for Nova Scotia health to be infecting anybody,” MacLean said.

CTV News asked Halifax Regional Police how many of its members are off due to COVID-19.

A spokesperson for the force said they don’t speak about deployment numbers because it’s an operational matter.

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