Nova Scotia reports 1,020 new cases of COVID-19, expands booster eligibility

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HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's top doctor said he's cautiously encouraged by the province's low hospitalization rate for COVID-19, but warned Monday that things could change very quickly.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang did not introduce any new public health measures, but he did emphasize that people must continue to follow public health advice, get vaccinated and get tested if they think they have the virus.

Though the province reported 1,020 new cases of COVID-19 Monday -- a figure Premier Tim Houston called "breathtaking" -- Strang said he couldn't justify imposing a stricter lockdown.

"We can accept a fair degree of spread of the virus to allow us to continue to do some of the things that protect our mental and emotional well being and minimize financial impacts," Strang told reporters during a briefing in Halifax. "However, we also have to work together to slow the spread of the Omicron variant to protect vulnerable people in the health care system."

Houston, who joined Strang via teleconference for the briefing, said there are 36 people in the province hospitalized because of COVID-19, and 31 of those patients were admitted since the Omicron variant was first detected last month. Of those hospitalized patients, over 77 per cent are vaccinated, and they range in age from 19 to 98, Houston said.

"To date, two things so far remain consistent," he said. "This variant appears less severe, but the volume is certainly breathtaking. And the second thing is, the vaccines work to reduce severe illness."

Though public health did not provide the number of reported active cases on Monday, online government data shows less than one per cent of people in the province with COVID-19 were hospitalized as of Dec. 31.

By comparison, the province logged 6,067 cases from March 15 to Nov. 9. Data shows 314 of those patients were hospitalized, for a rate of five per cent.

Strang said hundreds of health-care workers, both in the hospital and long-term care system, are having to stay home either because they're sick with the variant or they've been identified as a close contact.

"So the health-care system is managing the hospitalizations for now," he added. "But there are substantive operational impacts that are occurring throughout the system."

Public health is reviewing its isolation requirements for those who have been identified as a close contact of a COVID-19 case, and an announcement about any changes will likely be made Wednesday, he said.

On Monday, the province also opened up its booster shot eligibility to anyone aged 30 and older, and who received their second dose of a vaccine at least six months ago. Houston said 92,000 booster appointments were posted Monday and promptly filled.

"You certainly came out in droves. Thank you for that," he said. "More appointments are coming."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 3, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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