Investigation finds N.S. woman who died weeks ago died from COVID-19: Strang
HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health says an investigation has found that a woman who died several weeks ago died from complications due to COVID-19.
“Her death had been under investigation since then to determine if it was actually COVID-related or not,” said Dr. Robert Strang during a news conference in Halifax Tuesday afternoon.
“We’ve now got the information to make the conclusion that this was actually related to COVID-19.”
The woman was in her 70s and had underlying medical conditions.
She lived in the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s central zone. She was not a resident of a long-term care facility.
Sixty-two people have now died from COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, including 53 residents of Halifax’s Northwood long-term care home.
1 new case of COVID-19
Nova Scotia also reported one new case of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the province to 1,060.
The province did not say where the latest case was identified, and the government’s COVID data webpage has not been updated since Sunday.
“We do know that this new case is a close contact of a known case, which helps us give us assurance of, we know where the person was likely exposed,” said Strang.
The QEII Health Sciences Centre's microbiology lab completed 578 Nova Scotia tests on Monday.
Northwood is still reporting one active case of COVID-19, involving a resident. All staff members have recovered from the virus.
No other long-term care facilities are reporting active cases of the virus at this time.
“We continue to make progress at Northwood,” said Strang. “While all this is good news -- things are trending in the right direction -- we have to be careful … we need to be continuing to take a very measured and cautious approach as we move into recovery.”
Nova Scotia has been reporting low case numbers for about a month, with only four new cases reported so far in June.
However, Strang cautioned against reading too much into the numbers.
“We know we have to watch the epidemiology for a minimum of two weeks to understand any one situation and we have to continue through June and into the summer -- even as we reopen things -- continue to have a strong focus on easy access to testing, low threshold for testing, and strong follow-up of any positive cases and an overall strong focus on ongoing monitoring of the epidemiology,” he said.
Accurate data expected Wednesday
The provincial government did not include any information about recoveries, hospitalizations, or negative test results on Tuesday.
During the pandemic, there has been confusion over the number of recovered and active cases reported by the province, which haven’t always matched up with the numbers reported at Northwood.
The number of cases and recoveries haven’t always made sense, either. On Sunday, the province was reporting 1,059 confirmed cases, 61 deaths and 999 recoveries, which would result in -1 active cases.
Strang has previously explained that the data comes from a number of sources and reporting periods differ. As a result, the data doesn’t always reconcile.
Strang addressed the issue again on Tuesday and said accurate data is coming.
“At the very beginning of COVID, we knew we needed to get immediate information that we could report publicly very quickly and we used our lab information -- the number of cases coming from our lab,” said Strang.
“At the same time, we were in the process of finalizing the implementation of our public health information, Panorama, but the lab information had not yet been integrated into that Panorama system.”
Strang said, due to time pressures and the workload resulting from COVID-19, the province wasn’t able to complete the integration, and continued to use two different data systems, which led to discrepancies in the data.
Strang said the province has finally finalized the integration of the lab information into its Panorama system, which means Panorama is now Nova Scotia’s single source of COVID-19 data.
“Starting tomorrow, we’ll be able to reconcile some of the inconsistencies that people have seen and starting to produce that, what I call the gold standard of accurate information coming from Panorama,” said Strang.
Many Nova Scotia businesses forced to close as a result of the public health order reopened on Friday. During Tuesday’s news conference, Premier Stephen McNeil thanked businesses that had the courage to open their doors.
“By all accounts, the first step in restarting went well. Everyone is following protocol, staying safe and being respectful,” said McNeil.
“To the business community, I understand this is not easy. You are not at full capacity, far from it. I appreciate your patience. You are the heart of our economy and we need you. I understand some of you want us to move faster to get your businesses back to where they should be. We want them back where they should be too, but it is our hope that this approach of easing slowly into reopening will not only keep us healthy and safe, but will keep your doors open for the long term and allow your business to grow. The goal is to continue to open up, but that will depend on how well we manage this stage. So far, so good. It has never been more important to this province, or in this province, than now to help your local businesses. That means we need to think local, buy local, and support local.”
As Nova Scotians venture out, McNeil says he is confident they will follow the advice of public health.
“It’s not only important to the individual businesses, it is important to their own health,” he said.
“I have every bit of confidence that Nova Scotians will continue to put other people’s interests ahead of a short-term visit or expanding the bubble too soon. They will do what we’ve been doing, that is putting the collective interest of our province at the forefront and I want to thank them for doing that.”
By opening things up on the business side, Strang says the province has necessarily introduced some increased risk of COVID-19 recurring.
“So we need to watch things over the next couple of weeks. We have had, on two consecutive weekends, a single case where we are not clear on where the person would have been exposed and therefore, we have to conclude that there was some unknown exposure in the community. So there are still some signs of community transmission in the recent past,” he said.
“Even though our numbers of COVID-19 are low, that emphasizes the need for us to continue to take a cautious approach. We’ll continue to watch the epidemiology closely and monitor things throughout June. We are already starting to put together plans to present to the premier about if the epidemiology is sustained, what the next step in our reopening and out recovery could be. Hopefully, all things will go well and we will be able to have further opening as we enter into the end of June, early July and give more opportunities for people to do a variety of things around summer vacation.”
Strang says he knows people are eager to make summer vacation plans.
“People are thinking about getting out and about more as we move out of the first wave of COVID. It certainly is at the point now where we can, within Nova Scotia, that people can travel more freely,” said Strang.
“It’s important that we understand that there are going to be many challenges to our local economy and our tourism industry. So this year is going to be a year where we really encourage people to actually do your vacation at home within Nova Scotia. Travel around the province, doing that safely but at the same time supporting our local economy and communities around the province.”
Atlantic Canada bubble
The idea of an Atlantic Canada bubble would see residents of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland travel freely across borders, without the need to self-isolate.
Strang says he has been having conversations with his Atlantic colleagues about how they can get to the place where they are comfortable with their collective epidemiology and subsequently forward recommendations to the premiers.
“While we’d love to have no cases, we’re clear that we have to have tolerance of some COVID activity. So we are not going to base things only on having no cases. It’s not just the number of cases, we’re looking for are they clustered together? Do they indicate a large outbreak? What is the source of exposure of those cases? Are there indications that it is leading into widespread community transmission? It’s more than just the number, we will tolerate a low level of numbers of cases and we have to be realistic in the coming weeks and months,” said Strang.
“We are going to see some sporadic cases here and there, but our goal is to keep it at that sporadic level, not have wide community spread in any community and certainly we’re very vigilant about outbreaks in high-risk settings like long-term care facilities. That is a discussion we are having across the country, the chief medical officers, about that same objective. We are all on the same page on that.”
National and provincial sports organizations are working together to develop return to participation protocols.
“There is not going to be competition. Kids are going to be able to participate in sports, but it will be very much based on skill development activities that they can do while maintaining the requirements on numbers and social distancing, and many sports are not going to be able to do what we would traditionally say is a competition,” said Strang.
“A lot of sports, especially team sports, are going to look very different this year, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for young kids. The focus of sports should be on building skills, building teamwork, and less focus on competition.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Nova Scotia’s health-care system provided options for virtual care and telehealth, so doctors and other health-care providers could help patients while reducing face-to-face visits.
McNeil says he was surprised at how well residents responded to the health-care option.
“Quite frankly, I don’t think any of us fully appreciated how much Nova Scotians were going to like it. I’ve heard very positive feedback from Nova Scotians and will continue to work with Doctors Nova Scotia to see about the future of this program and some of the other initiatives we’ve rolled out after we find our way through COVID,” said McNeil.
Symptoms and self-isolation
Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 is required to self-isolate at home, away from the public, for 14 days.
Anyone who travels outside of Nova Scotia must also self-isolate for two weeks.
The provincial state of emergency, which was first declared on March 22, has been extended to June 14.
Last month, the province expanded the list of symptoms for which it is screening.
Anyone who experiences one of the following symptoms is encouraged to take an online test to determine if they should call 811 for further assessment:
- fever (i.e. chills, sweats)
- cough or worsening of a previous cough
- sore throat
- shortness of breath
- muscle aches
- nasal congestion/runny nose
- hoarse voice
- unusual fatigue
- loss of sense of smell or taste