Starting July 31, people will be required to wear non-medical masks in most indoor public places in Nova Scotia.
“We all need to be open to wearing a non-medical mask in most indoor public places,” said Premier Stephen McNeil during a news conference in Halifax on Friday.
“This is how we can protect each other and support our local businesses as we learn to live with COVID-19.”
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, said the evidence on non-medical masks has evolved throughout the pandemic and his public health direction is evolving along with it.
He said research shows that wearing a mask can reduce a person’s risk of contracting COVID-19, and it substantially reduces the risk of a person passing an infection onto someone else.
“We’re doing this because we know that, along with all the other public health measures, non-medical masks are effective in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Strang.
“Before the second wave of COVID arrives, and in all likelihood it is coming sometime in the fall, so we need to be prepared, and part of that preparedness is making mask-wearing much more of a habit and making it the norm for all Nova Scotians.”
Masks will be mandatory in the following indoor public places as of July 31:
personal services businesses, such as hair and nail salons, spas, body art facilities, except during services that require removing a mask
restaurants and bars, except while people are eating or drinking
places of worship or faith gatherings (masks can be removed temporarily for ceremonial purposes, such as receiving Communion or a couple during their wedding ceremony)
places for cultural or entertainment services or activities such as movie theatres, concerts and other performances
places for sports and recreational activities, such as a gym, pool or indoor tennis facility, except while doing an activity where a mask cannot be worn
places for events such as conferences and receptions
municipal or provincial government locations offering services to the public
common areas of tourist accommodations, such as lobbies, elevators and hallways
common areas of office buildings such as lobbies, elevators and hallways, but not private offices
public areas of a university or college campus, such as library or student union building, but not classrooms, labs, offices or residences
train or bus stations, ferry terminals and airports
Schools, daycares and day camps continue to follow their reopening plans.
Strang said businesses have the right to refuse entry or refuse service to people who refuse to wear a mask without a valid reason.
Children under two are exempt, as well as children between the ages of two and four if their caregiver cannot get them to wear a mask.
“The last thing we want to do is have a mother be forced to leave a bus because their child is having a hard time and can’t put on a mask at that time,” said Strang.
People with a valid medical reason for not wearing a mask are also exempt and they do not require a medical certificate as proof.
However, Strang said there are very few valid medical reasons to not wear a mask, most of which are related to anxiety.
“The Canadian Thoracic Society states that there is no evidence that wearing a mask worsens a chronic lung condition,” he said. “I do recognize that for some people with chronic breathing conditions wearing a mask can create anxiety.”
Strang acknowledged that some people with cognitive or mental disabilities may not be able to wear a mask.
As for people who have anxiety around wearing a mask, Strang suggested they practise wearing a mask for short periods of time at home.
“The vast majority of us are able to wear masks,” said Strang. “Please don’t go looking for a reason to not wear a mask.”
While masks will be considered mandatory in most indoor public places, the rule won’t be strictly enforced.
“We’re taking a cooperative and positive approach to mandatory masking rather than an enforcement approach,” explained Strang. “But I believe and I have confidence that the vast majority of Nova Scotians will do the right thing and will wear a mask when it’s required.”
While he is urging Nova Scotians to make mask-wearing a habit, he is also urging them not to judge others who aren’t wearing a mask.
“You don’t know what that person’s medical history is … maybe they have a disorder that they can’t wear a mask, so don’t make a judgment,” said Strang.
People are asked to use their own masks but the provincial government will help with initial supplies of masks for people who cannot bring their own.
Non-medical masks are already mandatory on public transportation, as of Friday. This includes municipal transit buses and ferries, school buses, community transit vehicles, and private taxis and shuttles.
Children under the age of two, and people with a valid medical reason for not wearing a mask, are exempt.
Strang announced another change affecting restaurants and licensed establishments. Effective Friday, people must remain seated when they’re at a restaurant or licensed establishment, except when they are entering or exiting, or going to the washroom.
“Having people out of their seats, moving around, mingling, increases a significant level of risk,” said Strang. “We’re seeing that in other jurisdictions, even in Canada, so we’re taking the step to make our restaurants and licensed establishments even safer.”
STATE OF EMERGENCY RENEWED
The province also announced Friday that the state of emergency has been renewed.
The renewed order will take effect at noon Sunday and extend until noon on Aug. 9.
EXPANDING THE ATLANTIC BUBBLE
McNeil again addressed the issue of expanding Nova Scotia’s tourism bubble beyond the Atlantic region to the rest of Canada.
Currently, people who come to Nova Scotia from outside the Atlantic provinces are required to self-isolate in the province for 14 days.
The premier confirmed Nova Scotia will reopen to other provinces without restrictions soon, but a date has not been set.
He acknowledged not everyone will agree with the decision, but insisted it’s necessary for the province’s “economic health.”
“I know this is not going to be universally accepted. I know that not everyone is going to be happy about that, but we need to,” said McNeil. “Opening up to the rest of the country is something we’re going to have to do. We need to learn to live with COVID until there is a vaccine. We can’t stay closed forever. Our families need to reunite and our economy needs to ignite.”
McNeil says Nova Scotia’s tourism industry, which is worth $2 billion, has taken a significant hit during the pandemic and he fears many tourism-related businesses will have to close if Nova Scotia doesn’t lift the restrictions on Canadian travellers from outside the Atlantic provinces.
“They employee thousands of Nova Scotians across this province and we can’t afford to lose the tourism industry,” said McNeil. “We need to find the courage to welcome our fellow Canadians.”
His comments come on a day when Ontario reported a significant surge in COVID-19 cases, with 195 new cases identified.
Quebec and Alberta have also seen a spike in new cases this week, with 163 new cases reported in Quebec on Friday, and 114 new cases in Alberta on Thursday.
NO NEW CASES OF COVID-19
Nova Scotia has extended its streak of no new COVID-19 cases to nine days as the province continues to test hundreds of people for the virus.
“You’ve all worked hard to get us to this point and Dr. Strang and I are very grateful,” said McNeil during Friday’s news conference.
“It’s good news but we can’t become complacent. COVID is a reality and we’re going to have to learn to live with it.”
More than 1,600 people have been tested for COVID-19 since Tuesday.
The QEII Health Sciences Centre's microbiology lab completed 528 Nova Scotia tests on Tuesday, 438 tests on Wednesday, and another 677 tests on Thursday, for a total of 1,643 tests.
No new cases were identified.
SOURCE OF INFECTION OF LAST CONFIRMED CASE STILL UNKNOWN
The last new case of COVID-19 was reported on July 15 and the cause of that person’s infection is still unknown.
“When this case was announced the source of infection for that individual was not clear and since then public health has been investigating any potential … contacts and where this person may have themselves gotten infected,” said Strang.
“While a very small number of close contacts have been identified for this case, the source of the infection of the case has not yet been determined and the investigation on this case is ongoing.”
Strang acknowledged that, for some cases of COVID-19, the source of infection may never be determined.
“This shows why it’s important for people to continue to follow the basic preventative measures,” he said. “Even though we’re at a low risk now, it’s not zero risk.”
1 ACTIVE CASE REMAINS
To date, Nova Scotia has 61,626 negative test results.
The number of confirmed cases remains at 1,067, though 1,003 cases are considered resolved and 63 people have died, leaving only one active case in the province.
Among the 63 Nova Scotians who died from COVID-19 are 53 residents of the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax.
There are no active cases of COVID-19 in any long-term care facilities and the Northwood outbreak is considered resolved.
There are no patients in hospital as a result of COVID-19.
The province's confirmed cases range in age from under 10 to over 90.
Sixty-one per cent of cases are female and 39 per cent are male.
There are cases confirmed across the province, but most have been identified in the central zone, which contains the Halifax Regional Municipality.
The provincial government says cumulative cases by zone may change as data is updated in Panorama, the province’s electronic information system.
The numbers reflect where a person lives, and not where their sample was collected.
western zone: 54 cases
central zone: 903 cases
northern zone: 57 cases
eastern zone: 53 cases
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 to Nova Scotia from outside the Atlantic region is also required to self-isolate for 14 days and must fill out a self-declaration form before coming to the province.
Residents of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador are no longer required to self-isolate when travelling to Nova Scotia, but they must provide proof of their place of residency at provincial borders.
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
shortness of breath
nasal congestion/runny nose
loss of sense of smell or taste
red, purple or blueish lesions on the feet, toes or fingers without clear cause