Health officials have confirmed there is community spread of COVID-19 within a Cape Breton community, raising concerns over increased caseloads.
Nineteen new cases of COVID-19 were reported Wednesday in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, with the majority of those cases in the Sydney area.
"After much work on contact tracing, we know that there are a number of cases that we can't connect to an initial source, so we have to conclude that there is some community spread in Sydney," Premier Iain Rankin said during a news briefing.
"This is definitely a concern and we have to be able to contain this spread."
Age group most affected
Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical health officer, said the untraceable cases are leading to a particular age group.
"What we're seeing most concerning is this concentration in 20 [and] 30 year olds, which seems to be local transmission," he said. "We haven't had that kind of a concentration within a very specific age group in other parts of the province."
Strang said there are cases in the Sydney area among other ages, but most can be attributed to travel or close contact with another case.
He encouraged anyone who is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine to roll up their sleeves. Vaccinations are now open to those aged 30 and up in the province.
In total, the eastern portion of Cape Breton Island has 131 active cases.
Health officials said that as the number of cases rise, so does the likelihood of patients requiring hospitalizations.
In the central health zone, eight people have been transferred to other zones, including patients with and without COVID-19.
Nova Scotia Health said that has freed up some resources and made room for additional COVID-19 patients to be placed in acute care and ICU.
The rise in cases has led to similar shuffling of resources in the Sydney area, with some health-care officials being moved out of testing sites and back into hospitals.
People who fall within the 20-30 age cohort are urged to get tested whether experiencing symptoms or not.
A pop-up testing site is expected to be open at Centre 200 in Sydney on Thursday. People can also be tested at the Grand Lake Road fire hall by walk-in service for rapid tests, or by booking for regular appointments.
Appointments are also available at Northside General Hospital in North Sydney.
"People are doing a good job getting tested — or they were a couple of weeks ago," Strang said. "We need to increase that again. It's dropped off a bit, especially in the 20- to 30-year age group."
Sydney a priority for testing
Sydney is earmarked as a priority for testing, but Strang said additional pop-up sites could be coming for other areas of CBRM.
On Wednesday, Nova Scotia extended its lockdown until at least the second week of June and cancelled in-person classes for students for the remainder of the school year.
Dr. Brendan Carr, president and CEO of Nova Scotia Health, urged Sydney residents to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves.
"Be very, very mindful of your own social distancing, of wearing masks, of just really doing your very best to reduce your own personal contacts," he said.
Sydney apartment residents to be tested
One confirmed case of COVID-19 is being investigated at a Sydney apartment building.
Debbie MacPherson, a resident of Rotary Park Apartments, was told by Public Health that she and other residents need to get tested and self-isolate pending the outcome of their results.
Although MacPherson doesn't travel much throughout the building, the 66-year-old said she does visit its laundry room.
She is taking the news in stride, and said fortunately she has stocked up on necessities.
"I don't really worry about that right yet. Once I get my tests and my results come back, then I will start to worry about these things," she said.
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