Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil reiterated Thursday that people should avoid gathering socially and pointed to a case of COVID-19 that might be tied to a St. Patrick's Day gathering as proof why.
"I'm not trying to scare you, I'm actually trying to convince you [that] when we say, 'Stop gathering and stay home,' we mean it," he said at a press conference.
On Thursday, the province announced five new cases of COVID-19, which brings the total to 73 in the province. Four cases are travel-related or connected to earlier cases.
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said the remaining case may be tied to a gathering on St. Patrick's Day involving about 50 people.
The gathering, a St. Patrick's Day dance, was held March 14 at the Lake Echo Community Centre. The event was held when the suggested limit for public gatherings was 150 people and there were no cases of COVID-19 reported in Nova Scotia.
"This case, it illustrates why it's so important that the things we have put in place, [that] people adhere to them, the social distancing," he said.
Some of the measures include keeping two metres between yourself and other people, limiting social gatherings to no more than five people, and keeping grocery shopping and other errands to essential times only.
Strang said anybody who is a close contact of the person is being tested right away.
While most people have been contacted, the Nova Scotia Health Authority said in a news release there could be some attendees public health is not aware of, or their contact information may have changed.
The health authority anticipates anyone exposed to the virus at the March 14 event may develop symptoms by up to, and including, March 28.
COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough, difficult breathing and pneumonia. Those with symptoms need to take the online COVID-19 assessment questionnaire to determine if 811 should be called.
Strang has said measures the province has taken to date should minimize community spread, but he still expects it to happen in Nova Scotia, as it has in many Canadian provinces.
Halifax Transit employee tests positive for COVID-19
Strang also spoke about the Halifax Transit employee who tested positive for COVID-19.
"Appropriate public health steps were taken," Strang said. "The source of the exposure does not involve riding on a bus."
Strang said it's not necessary to shut down the bus garage involved in the case.
"There hasn't been broad exposure within the workplace," he said.
Strang was asked about allowing veterinary services to be deemed an essential service. Strang said he is looking to amend an order so veterinarians are able "to provide or urgent and emergent veterinary services for pets."
Dr. Brendan Carr, the CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, said the women and children's unit at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre in Amherst will be moved temporarily to the Colchester East Hants Health Centre in Truro.
He said one of the staff members at Cumberland reported "vague symptoms" of COVID-19 on Thursday, which is why the decision was made to shut down the unit immediately instead of Friday.
Carr said it would be difficult to maintain the women and children's unit care at Cumberland when the resources could be redeployed to the Truro hospital. The Cumberland unit looks after a couple hundred patients, 60 of whom are from New Brunswick.
Carr said there is an obstetrician at Cumberland in case of emergencies.
At the IWK Health Centre, Dr. Krista Jangaard said difficult decisions have been made about reducing care to "urgent, emergent and time-sensitive care."
She said there are still people who require hospital care, "even at a time where we need to build capacity." She said everyone at the IWK who is able to work from home is now working from home.
For example, she said mental-health care has largely moved to a virtual platform.
Jangaard said although provincial borders are closed, IWK service in P.E.I., New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador is still operational.
"We are here for the care that is required," she said.
17 COVID-19 assessment sites in province
He said there are now 17 primary COVID-19 assessment sites operating across the province.
The 73 individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Nova Scotia range from under to mid-70s.
Two individuals are currently in hospital and two have recovered.
More than 3,000 negative tests
Nova Scotia now has 3,201 negative test results, up by more than 400 from Wednesday's tally.
Carr said the lab team completed more than 474 tests on Wednesday.
Testing capacity recently doubled from about 200 daily tests, which Strang said allows all close contacts of confirmed cases to be tested, even if they aren't showing symptoms. Strang said anyone admitted to hospital with severe coronavirus-like symptoms will also be tested.
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