HALIFAX -- There are five new cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, including a case that may be linked to a party.

This brings the total number of cases in the province to 73.

The provincial government says most of the new cases are travel-related or connected to earlier cases, but one case cannot be linked to travel or a previously-confirmed case of COVID-19.

Health officials are investigating how that person was exposed to COVID-19 and whether others may have been exposed.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, said during a news conference Thursday that it’s possible the case is linked to a “significant number of people getting together" at a St. Patrick's Day party.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority has also released a statement, warning about a possible exposure at a St. Patrick's Day event, held at the Lake Echo Community Centre on March 14. 

Because the source of exposure hasn’t been confirmed at this time, health officials stopped short of saying the case is linked to community spread.

Strang and Premier Stephen McNeil said the fact that the case may be linked to a party shows the importance of staying home and practising physical-distancing.

“Those are so important because how this virus spreads is when people get together in close contact,” said Strang. “It’s such an important thing to minimize the virus to spread.”

'This is a wake-up call'

McNeil had strong words for people who aren’t following the rules set out by the province, which include a five-person limit for social gatherings, though the province is advising against any kind of social gatherings.

“Whatever they find, this is a wake-up call. Everyone needs to avoid social-gatherings,” said McNeil.

“When we say stop gathering and stay home, we mean it. Think of your loved ones, your neighbours.”

The 73 infected individuals range in age from under 10 to their mid-70s.

Three people have been hospitalized as a result of the virus. One person has been released from hospital and two remain in hospital.

The daughter of one patient told CTV News that her 69-year-old father is in the intensive care unit at the hospital in Truro, N.S., and is in critical condition.

The condition of the second patient is unknown at this time.

Two people have recovered from the virus and their cases are considered resolved.

Officials aren’t releasing details about where the infected individuals are located, but they say cases have been identified in all parts of the province.

Public Health is working to identify anyone who may have come in close contact with the confirmed COVID-19 cases. Those people must self-isolate at home, away from the public, for 14 days.

As for testing, the province says it can now test more than 400 people a day, and it’s looking at operating the lab around the clock, if needed.

As of Thursday, there were 3,201 negative results and 73 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia.

Health officials reassure patients amid pandemic

The Nova Scotia Health Authority says it is ready for a surge of COVID-19 cases.

“We know that this is going to get more intense in the weeks ahead and we have a lot of work ahead of us,” said Dr. Brendan Carr, president and CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, during Thursday’s news conference.

“I just want to reassure everybody that the staff and the physicians at the Nova Scotia health system are doing everything they can to be prepared and we will be here when people need our care.”

The IWK Health Centre is also reassuring patients and their families that, despite a tightening of travel at Nova Scotia’s borders, the hospital is still providing services for Atlantic Canadians.

“We are there for our patients in P.E.I., New Brunswick and Newfoundland who need our services,” said Dr. Krista Jangaard, president and CEO of the IWK Health Centre.

“We continue to work through how we get that expedited so you can get across the border easily, but we are here for the care that is required.”

The government is reminding citizens that anyone who has travelled outside of Nova Scotia must self-isolate for 14 days, with exceptions for those who work in essential services and must travel for work, and those who need to come to Nova Scotia for health services.

Anyone who has travelled, or has been in close contact with someone who travelled, and is experiencing symptoms such as a fever or new cough, should complete an online questionnaire before calling 811.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Natasha Pace