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'Encouraging milestone': N.S. reports no new COVID-19 cases, boosts gathering limit to 10 people
HALIFAX -- As Nova Scotia reported no new cases of COVID-19 for the first time in over two months, the province also announced it is increasing the social gathering limit, and will allow campgrounds to reopen next month.
“Today we come before you with good news – no new cases to report, zero -- that’s exciting,” said Premier Stephen McNeil. “Your sacrifice and your patience and your hard work is paying off.”
The province reported its first three presumptive cases of COVID-19 in mid-March and the numbers continued to grow steadily, peaking around mid-April. The highest number of cases reported in a single day was 55 cases on April 23.
The numbers have dwindled over the past month, with single-digit cases being reported since May 5.
“This is a significant and encouraging milestone,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang. “It hasn’t been easy, but we are seeing positive results.”
Gathering limit increased to 10
The province has slowly been easing some of the COVID-19 restrictions and on Friday announced that 10 people can now gather in a group, effective immediately. Before Friday, only five people could gather.
However, Strang said the rules around physical distancing still apply; a distance of six feet or two metres must be maintained among those in the group, except for those who are members of the same household or family household bubble.
The household bubble is not expanding at this time. Only two households can “bubble” and they must be mutually exclusive. People in the same “bubble” do not have to practise physical distancing.
“I know many of you wanted to add to the family bubble household, but we are not there yet, sorry, because that involves physical contact, and we will still need to limit that,” said McNeil.
“But 10 of you can gather in the driveway, in the backyard, in the park, or even inside your house, as long as you stay six feet apart.”
The 10-person gathering limit applies both inside and outside.
Weddings and funerals
The province is making an exception for weddings and funeral services held outdoors, which 15 people can attend, in addition to the officiant.
“Our province has experienced a lot of death,” said McNeil. “Families need to come together to celebrate the life of their loved one.”
The 10-person rule still applies to weddings and funerals held indoors.
“I hate to be a damper on these joyous events, but at this time, we need to make sure that numbers are limited, so the officiant is the only extra person,” clarified Strang. “If you want a photographer or a DJ or something like that, they would be included in your number of 10 indoors or 15 outdoors.”
Events, sports, faith gatherings and businesses
Strang said the 10-person gathering limit applies to social gatherings and arts and culture events, such as theatre performances and dance recitals.
“If it makes sense to have a musician host a small performance with nine other people all maintaining physical distancing, that would be fine,” he said.
It also applies to faith gatherings, though drive-in services are allowed, provided those in attendance remain in their vehicles.
Strang said faith gatherings can be held inside or outside, with physical distancing.
“It’s important that they continue to follow other safety precautions such as not passing things like collection plates or communion between people,” he said.
He also discouraged against singing.
“There’s now evidence that people singing actually significantly increases the spreading of respiratory droplets, increasing the risk of transmitting the virus that causes COVID-19,” he explained.
As for sports, he said 10 people can practice on a soccer field, for example, as long as they keep their distance from one another.
“But they can’t play a typical game of soccer because that would involve close contact,” said Strang. “They also cannot have two separate groups of 10 on the same field.”
The 10-person rule also applies to businesses whose main function is gatherings, such as theatres, concerts, festivals and sporting activities, and to businesses that are too small to ensure physical distancing.
Strang said it doesn’t apply to fitness facilities, but that they must have a plan that addresses how they control numbers to ensure social distancing, among other things like handwashing and increased hygiene.
Gyms can reopen on June 5, along with most businesses that were forced to close at the start of the pandemic in March.
The province will allow private campgrounds to open on June 5, for all types of campers.
Private campgrounds can only operate at 50 per cent capacity and must ensure public health protocols are followed, including adequate distance between campsites.
“One thing I’ve discovered is Nova Scotia has a lot of avid campers and we want you to get back out and enjoy the outdoors,” said McNeil.
Provincial campgrounds will open to Nova Scotians on June 15. The reservation line will open on June 8.
A schedule of which campgrounds are open for reservations and the days they open can be found on the provincial parks website. Reservations can be made online or by phone starting at 9 a.m. on those days.
Campgrounds will not accept reservations from out-of-province visitors and only registered campers will be allowed to enter campgrounds.
The number of available campsites has been reduced by 30 per cent to allow for physical distancing and a minimum of 20 feet between individual campsites.
The province says common areas will be cleaned more frequently, signs to promote physical distancing and other healthy practices will be posted, and there will be changes to the on-site check-in process to minimize physical contact with park employees.
All provincial park events are cancelled until at least June 30.
Playgrounds and group facilities at campgrounds will remain closed until public health restrictions are lifted.
Group camping sites, yurts and cabins will be closed this season.
The province says pools can start maintenance work to prepare for reopening, likely in time for summer, though a date has not been set.
Sleepover camps will not be permitted this year.
"When you're bringing numbers of kids together for a week or two weeks, they're sleeping in bunk houses together, eating together, activities throughout the day, there's just too much of a level of risk there,” said Strang.
Slow, measured steps
Strang noted that the rules might be confusing to some Nova Scotians who wonder why they can go to a restaurant but can’t hug their grandchildren.
He explained different settings and activities come with different levels of risk, which is taken into consideration when making decisions.
When deciding whether an activity or gathering carries a low or high risk, Strang said he considers how many people would be involved, the chance of close contact, whether physical distancing can be maintained, and whether the setting would allow for the spread of COVID-19.
“This is about taking measured steps so we can reopen … we have to do this slowly and carefully,” he said.
“It is not gone, even though our epidemiology looks very good. It is still here, it’s still circulating in other part of the country and internationally.”
1,055 cases; 978 recovered
The QEII Health Sciences Centre's microbiology lab completed 1,034 tests on Thursday.
No new cases were identified.
To date, Nova Scotia has 40,914 negative test results, 1,055 positive COVID-19 test results and 59 deaths.
Fifty-two of the 59 deaths involved residents at Halifax’s Northwood long-term care home, which has seen the most significant outbreak of the virus in Nova Scotia.
In a news release, the province said one more person has recovered from COVID-19, for a total of 978 recoveries.
However, in the same news release, the province also indicated that two more Northwood residents have recovered from the virus.
Thursday, the province reported 16 active cases at Northwood, involving 12 residents and four staff members.
Friday, the province reported 14 active cases at Northwood, involving 10 residents and four staff members.
CTV News reached out to the province for clarification on these numbers and received the following response:
"As. Dr Strang has previously stated, data is received from different sources and entered into our system. We report the information each day, but there may be delays that result in the data not reconciling."
Based on Friday's numbers, there are 18 active cases in the province, with 14 of those cases linked to Northwood, leaving four outside of Northwood.
There are still eight people in hospital and three patients in the intensive care unit.
CTV News reached out to the province for clarification on hospitalizations and whether there are Northwood residents in hospital.
The Department of Health and Wellness provided this statement on Wednesday:
“Throughout the pandemic, there have been residents of [long-term care facilities] in Nova Scotia admitted to hospital due to COVID-19. However, due to the small number of these hospitalizations, we cannot provide more information about the current cases for privacy reasons.”
The province’s confirmed cases range in age from under 10 to over 90.
Sixty-two per cent of cases are female and 38 per cent are male.
The cases are broken down by the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s four zones. The central zone, which contains the Halifax Regional Municipality, has seen the most significant number of cases:
- western zone: 54 cases
- central zone: 905 cases
- northern zone: 45 cases
- eastern zone: 51 cases
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.
List of symptoms expanded
Last week, 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