Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health says he's concerned too many people in the province are complacent about COVID-19.
He's calling on them to continue following public health protocols, including wearing masks in indoor crowded spaces and staying home when unwell.
"Certainly we're not where we were in 2020 or 2021 or even last spring, but COVID is still a significant issue that requires our collective attention and action," Dr. Robert Strang told reporters during a virtual news conference on Friday.
"We need to re-engage with the serious nature of COVID collectively as Nova Scotia."
The issue is not unique to Nova Scotia, said Strang.
While he understands people are tired, he worries some people have interpreted the removal of mandates with the notion that "COVID is over and we don't need to do anything, which is far from the truth."
Strang said people need to think about the "collective well-being" of the province and what they need to do to help keep each other safe.
"It's nothing new. It's what we've been talking about for the last two and a half years."
New vaccine plans announced
The first step in that effort is to keep up to date with COVID-19 vaccines, said Strang.
The province announced Friday that children between the ages of 5 to eleven could get their first COVID-19 booster starting the week of Sept. 6.
Pfizer's pediatric vaccine is the only one available as a booster for children in that age group. Appointments will be available closer to the date. They can be booked online.
Starting Sept. 19, an additional COVID dose will be available for people over 12, regardless of the number of boosters they've already had.
The province says the decisions are based on recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
Last month, the province opened primary two-dose bookings for children between ages six months and five years. Children in that group can receive a Moderna vaccine.
In Nova Scotia, it is recommended that people wait 168 days following a COVID infection before they receive their next COVID shot.
The recommended interval between COVID vaccines after the initial first doses is also 168 days. Moderately to severely immunocompromised people are eligible for a shorter interval of 120 days before their next vaccine.
It is also recommended that they wait 120 days after a COVID infection before receiving their next dose.
Strang said there would be more information in the coming weeks about bivalent vaccines. He said he's concerned that only about 50 per cent of kids in the five-to-11 age group have received both vaccines so far.
"It's very important to remind parents and guardians that if your child hasn't had all their available doses, to please do so as soon as possible."
Mask use still recommended
The province is going through a seventh wave. Strang said all indicators point to the wave beginning to decline. Levels of hospitalization are below what they were in the spring.
Still, with a lot of COVID in the province, Strang said it remains important for people to take steps beyond getting vaccinated, including wearing masks in crowded indoor spaces and staying home when ill.
Earlier this week, Education Minister Becky Druhan announced that masks would not be mandatory when classes resume for public school students next month.
Strang told reporters on Friday that while he supports not having a mandate, his office continues to make the strong recommendation that people stay home when they're sick, get tested for COVID, and wear masks in school wherever possible.
"Certainly when they're in larger numbers in a classroom, on a bus, in assemblies, etcetera," he said. "Our recommendation hasn't changed."
Although some universities in the province are bringing back mask mandates, Strang said his office did not recommend they do so.
People asked to report positive test results
As autumn approaches, Strang said his office is watching for the possibility of another significant surge of COVID-19 combined with the flu season.
"There is no doubt that situation would create significant strain on our health-care system, but it's very hard to actually predict," he said.
"The main question is are we going to get another significant change in variant or are we going to continue to have these Omicron-like variants where there is actually building more and more protection from vaccine as well as ongoing infection."
Strang is encouraging people who test positive for COVID-19 to report their result because it helps identify anyone who might qualify for early treatment and it helps Public Health with its surveillance efforts.
Opposition weighs in
Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said if Strang is concerned about complacency, the government should be doing a better job communicating with the public.
"This is a government that's been very nonchalant about COVID-19," he said.
Churchill called for a return to more regular briefings and efforts to educate the public about the state of the disease within the province.
"To make good informed decisions, you have to have information to do that."
NDP Leader Claudia Chender said the fact the briefing Friday was not publicly streamed was a missed opportunity.
Chender said the message from Strang appears slightly different than what the public is hearing from the government.
"I think the bottom line that we keep hearing from government is, live your life, do what you think is best for you and you have all the tools you need," she said.
Public Health is providing a more cautious message and encouraging people to take care of their community and take appropriate steps to keep themselves and everyone else safe, said Chender.
With Strang continuing to call on people to stay home when they feel unwell, Chender said the government must address the fact that many people do not have paid sick leave.
Friday's update was the first from Strang since July 4.. He said his office is always looking at its overall response, including its communications approach. More briefings are possible, he said.
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