N.S. to remove mask mandate, enter Phase 5 on Sept. 15

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Premier Tim Houston (left) and Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, hold a COVID-19 briefing in August. (Communications Nova Scotia - image credit)
Premier Tim Houston (left) and Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, hold a COVID-19 briefing in August. (Communications Nova Scotia - image credit)

Nova Scotia will move into the final phase of its reopening plan on Sept. 15, when mask mandates and gathering limits will be dropped.

Proceeding to that phase — Phase 5 — is contingent upon 75 per cent of Nova Scotians being double vaccinated. As of Wednesday, 71.7 per cent of the population has received two doses of the vaccine.

Dr. Robert Strang, the chief medical officer of health, said Wednesday he is confident the province will reach that target by Sept. 15.

"I truly believe Nova Scotia is ready," Strang said during a COVID-19 briefing alongside Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston.

Nova Scotia's overall vaccination rate, as reflected on the official provincial COVID-19 dashboard, does not include 8,000 or so members of the Canadian Armed Forces stationed in Nova Scotia.

It takes about 10,000 people getting a second dose of vaccine to raise the proportion of fully vaccinated Nova Scotians by one percentage point.

Strang said the province is still using a cautious approach, and while masking will no longer be mandatory across Nova Scotia in Phase 5, it is "strongly recommended" when people are indoors and in close contact with other people.

Health facilities and businesses can also set their own rules and require masks if they see fit, Strang said, while masks are still required until Sept. 20 in Nova Scotia schools.

Border measures will also remain in place during Phase 5, where people coming in from outside P.E.I. or Newfoundland and Labrador have to fill out a Safe Check-in Form and follow isolation requirements based on their vaccination status.

The province's new proof of vaccination policy will also help keep everyone safe, Strang said.

Starting Oct. 4, people will need to show proof they are fully vaccinated to take part in non-essential activities like going to restaurants, bars, concerts, movies and fitness facilities.

Fully vaccinated people no longer self-isolate if close contact

Strang said if cases begin rising or Public Health sees community spread in a town or workplace, mandatory masking will be one of the first measures brought back. He said the province would try to keep those rules targeted at specific outbreaks instead of issuing a provincewide mandate.

Close contacts of people who have been confirmed to have COVID-19 no longer have to self-isolate while awaiting the results of a test if they are fully vaccinated unless specifically directed, Strang said.

Fully vaccinated means having two doses of AstraZeneca, Moderna or Pfizer. Strang said the province is now offering an additional dose of Moderna or Pfizer to anyone whose vaccine is not one of the three approved by Health Canada or anyone who has had a single dose of Janssen.

14 new cases Wednesday

The province reported 14 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the number of active cases to 61.

Nine of the new cases are in the northern health zone and all are close contacts of previously reported cases.

Three cases are in the central zone, including two that are related to travel and one that is under investigation.

One case is in the western zone and is under investigation.

One is in the eastern zone and is a close contact of a previously reported case.

There is one person in hospital with COVID-19 and that person is not in intensive care. Strang said four of the cases are children under 12.

Labs in the province completed processing 2,229 tests on Tuesday.

Nova Scotia has long had a vaccination target of 75 per cent of the population, or 85 per cent of those eligible for the shot.

But there are some signs that might not be enough.

Modelling released last week by Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table showed more than 85 per cent of the eligible population must be vaccinated to avoid another lockdown due to the delta variant.

However, Dr. Peter Lin said Wednesday a herd immunity of 85 per cent or even 90 per cent might not keep cases down.

Vaccinated people can still carry and spread the virus, he said, so there are lots of people walking around with COVID-19 who don't know it and can pass it on to any unvaccinated person — most often children.

"That means everyone, and I mean everyone, should keep their mask on and keep some distance," he told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Wednesday.

Countries with high vaccination rates struggling

In Ontario, Lin said 10 to 20 per cent of the recent daily cases are fully vaccinated people.

Israel, which was considered a leader in vaccinations, recently hit 11,000 cases a day, despite 62 per cent of the population being fully vaccinated. It has warned other countries to not rely so heavily on the vaccine and give up public health measures like masking.

In the United States, where 53 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, there is an average of 153,246 cases a day — a much higher number than this time last year. Lin noted that about 25 per cent of daily U.S. cases were coming from children, even before school started.

Atlantic Canada case numbers

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