Nova Scotia holds off on testing for community spread of COVID-19
HALIFAX -- Health officials in Nova Scotia insist all of the new cases announced Wednesday are "travel-related," but that is primarily where testing has been focused so far.
National figures suggest there's already a good deal of community spread in Canada and there's a call for Nova Scotia to expand testing for that.
Halifax contractor Greg Hartlen says he's largely working alone, and he'd like to have a better idea who might have COVID-19, even though they haven't been travelling.
"It would be nice to know if there's anybody infected in the communities that we're actually out working in," Hartlen said. "I mean, some of our jobs are kind of a necessity to be outside, putting peoples' home back together."
It's a sentiment that is growing across the country, especially since health officials in Ottawa confirmed on Tuesday that there has been a significant shift in the way COVID-19 is being transmitted -- 44 per cent is related to travel, but 53 per cent is being picked up in communities.
That's a worrisome trend for people in Halifax, like Kimberley Watson.
"If it's getting to that stage, it's probably time to start testing as many people as you can," Watson said.
Dreya Donovan realizes we can't test everyone, but testing a few people is better than testing none, she said.
Emma Lang understands the quandary public health officials face.
"Does adding more testing benefit?" Lang said. "Maybe a little, but I'm not sure whether you get enough bang for your buck -- and that, I'm sure, is the million-dollar question that I'm sure government is trying to decide."
In New Brunswick, testing has been modified to include anyone showing symptoms. Before Tuesday, they had to be a traveller or connected to one to get a swab.
Nova Scotia isn't at that point yet, said Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health.
"Our testing is mainly still focused on travel-related cases," Strang said.
One of the reasons the province has not switched testing priorities is that it is still flu season, so they don't want to overload the provincial lab, where technicians are doing about 400 tests a day right now.
Strang said the province is ramping up tests to include hospital patients with symptoms, while watching closely for clusters of cases to show up in the ERs. Strang said public health officials are also re-evaluating the work it's doing at its COVID-19 assessment centres.
"If we do get indications of actual community spread, which would mean that we have a case that doesn't have a link to anybody that's related to travel, if we start to see that, we will certainly be bringing that forward and include that as part of our regular updates," Strang said.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said the province is lucky that community spread has not happened yet.
"But let's not kid ourselves," McNeil said. "It could happen just about any time."