Nova Scotia's Sipekne'katik First Nation confirms two cases of COVID-19

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HALIFAX — As the number of new COVID-19 infections showed signs of stabilizing in two Maritime provinces Thursday, the chief of a First Nation in Nova Scotia confirmed two cases on his reserve.

In an interview, Sipekne'katik Chief Mike Sack said the band had been notified of the positive results by public health officials on Wednesday. He said initial findings suggested the first infection was contracted outside the community and the virus was then passed on to the second person.

He said contact tracing was underway, but the news has put the community on edge.

"I understand and respect privacy, but the community is going a little crazy wondering who it is," Sack said. "We have a small and tight-knit community, so everyone is wondering whether they came in contact or not."

Nova Scotia reported 11 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, and the number of active cases dropped to 119 from 127. Nine of the new cases were in the central health zone, which includes Halifax, while the others were in the northern zone.

"It is important to recognize that although our cases numbers are not as high as we expected them to be, we continue to see new cases of COVID-19 every day," Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, said in a news release. "Now is not the time to let our guard down."

Stepped up testing has continued since the outbreak that forced the implementation of new restrictions in the Halifax area one week ago. Provincial labs completed 2,047 tests on Wednesday, while 338 tests were administered at a rapid-testing pop-up site in Halifax and 148 tests were done at the rapid-testing pop-up site in Wolfville. Health officials reported no positive test results at either site.

In New Brunswick, health officials reported six new COVID-19 cases, bringing the number of active cases to 111.

There was one case was in the Moncton region, three in the Saint John region and two in the Fredericton area. Those zones remain under an orange alert level, but chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said the Fredericton and Moncton zones would be reassessed on Sunday.

Russell said Saint John won't be reassessed until later because officials there are still dealing with an outbreak at a seniors' residence. She said another Parkland Saint John employee, who is in self-isolation, had tested positive for the virus. That brought the total number of cases at the facility to 16 — six staff and 10 residents.

Russell urged residents not to travel during the holiday season or to have people visit from other provinces.

"If you do decide to travel, be aware that case counts in other jurisdictions are much, much higher than here in New Brunswick," she said.

Premier Blaine Higgs urged residents to help get all of the province back to the less restrictive yellow level.

"We know that vaccines are just around the corner, so we just have to be diligent," Higgs said. "Let's prepare for Christmas but let's not get impatient. Let's make sure we can get back to yellow."

Higgs said Greg MacCallum, director of the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization, would lead the province's plan with the Department of Health and a working group to co-ordinate the deployment of a vaccine.

In Prince Edward Island, health officials announced one new COVID-19 case Thursday. It involves a rotational worker in his 20s who recently travelled to the Island from outside the Atlantic region and has been in self-isolation since arriving.

Prince Edward Island currently has five active cases of the disease.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases for the first time in more than two weeks as its number of active cases fell to 29.

Late Thursday, Nova Scotia health officials said they had identified a case at Citadel High School in Halifax. The school was already closed because of a professional development day and officials said it would remain closed on Friday and on Monday for cleaning.

In Sipekne'katik, Sack said band officials don't anticipate the need to close off the community, located about 70 kilometres north of Halifax, although he said that would be a difficult choice to make in any event.

"Our community doesn't have a grocery store or anything like that, so people need to leave our community regardless," he said. The chief said the band council was monitoring the situation closely and working directly with provincial health officials.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2020.

— With files from Kevin Bissett in Fredericton

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press