Nova Scotia has further eased COVID-19 restrictions for organized sports and the arts and culture sector.
Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said Friday people may now gather in groups of up to 60 without physical distancing for sports practices, games, competitions, and for arts and culture rehearsals and performances.
Strang said that for sports competitions, the increase will only apply to teams that regularly compete against each other.
"This increase of 10 people meets the operational and safety needs for some sports and does not substantially change the risk of exposure to COVID-19," he said.
The change was announced as the province reported one new case of COVID-19, bringing the total number of known active cases to nine.
The new case was identified in the eastern zone and is related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada. The person has been self-isolating, as required.
Earlier in the week, the government announced that sports teams could start playing games, but with restricted travel and no spectators. Arts and theatre performances can also take place without an audience.
"I know many in the arts and culture sector were worried about the impacts of our current restrictions, because they rely on audiences," Strang said.
He said Public Health is looking for potential solutions for the arts and culture industry that abide by COVID-19 safety guidelines and the province's current epidemiology.
Meanwhile, Strang said those communities will have to hold performances online.
Strang said theatres or sports facilities can hire a business to live stream the events, as long as the production team is no more than 10 people and they must maintain physical distance from others in the building.
If a theatre or sports facility chooses to do this on their own, the people recording must be included in the maximum of 60 participants.
However, facility and venue staff are not included in the number.
The province also said Friday that seven long-term care homes will be replaced or undergo significant renovations after Premier Stephen McNeil announced an increase of $8 million per year under the long-term care infrastructure plan.
The plan will add 236 long-term care beds and replace hundreds more, the government said in a news release.
The Northwood campus in Halifax is poised to receive 44 of the new beds. Last year, 100 beds were removed at Northwood to convert shared rooms to single rooms after COVID-19 swept through the facility, killing 53 residents in the spring.
On Friday, Strang stressed the importance of caring for one another during the pandemic.
"We are living in difficult and extraordinary times and with this pandemic, mental health has been at the forefront more than ever," Strang said.
"We have been required in countless ways to find healthy ways to decrease stress and deal with our difficult emotions while remaining physically distant from each other. This is no small feat."
Strang said due to the pandemic, the province's mental health and addictions program has accelerated the launch of several free online tools to help those in need.
The province said Nova Scotia labs completed 1,588 COVID-19 tests on Thursday.
From Jan. 22-28, 533 tests were administered at the rapid-testing pop-up sites in Halifax and Sydney.
The provincial health authority's mobile testing unit is in Masstown until 4:30 p.m. on Friday. Rapid testing is also available on Friday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Amelia Saputo Centre at St. FX University in Antigonish and at the Halifax Convention Centre in the Argyle Atrium from 3 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Vaccines being used up
As of Thursday, 14,589 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in the province, including 2,714 second doses.
Strang said any remaining vaccines were scheduled to be used Friday and into next week.
The province has been facing supply constraints after Pfizer-BioNTech announced there would be no new shipments of the vaccine to Canada this week as it pauses production in Belgium to increase long-term capacity.
Strang did say more vaccines are expected to arrive in Nova Scotia by the end of next week.
"As we get vaccines, it will be continue to go into arms or be set aside for people's second dose," he said.
Atlantic Canada case numbers
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