Nova Scotia Health will no longer include locations it deems "low risk" on its list of potential COVID-19 exposure sites in the central zone.
Those "low-risk" locations include retail and grocery stores.
The health agency made the announcement Thursday evening in a news release listing new potential exposure sites.
"Given the risk of community transmission in the central zone, everyone should consider getting tested for COVID-19, not just those present at specific exposure locations," the news release said.
The province reported 38 new cases on Thursday, a number that has not been surpassed since April 23, 2020. Of the 38 cases, 33 were in the central zone.
The spike in cases prompted new restrictions for the Halifax Regional Municipality and some surrounding areas, effective Friday morning. The measures include limiting travel in and out of affected areas, closing restaurants to seated service, closing personal services such as barber shops and massage therapy clinics, and limiting retail stores to 25 per cent capacity, among others.
Previously, the health agency listed potential exposure sites such as retail shops, malls, grocery stores, restaurants, bars and fitness centres.
For some locations, regardless of whether people had symptoms, they were told to get tested and self-isolate if they had been at the sites. For others, if people didn't have symptoms, they were told to get tested, but they didn't have to self-isolate.
Now, the central zone locations will only be included if people must self-isolate.
The decision not to warn residents of some possible exposures in the central zone comes amid increasing case counts and the growing prevalence of COVID-19 variants, which are more easily transmitted.
Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, has said variants are becoming the norm in Nova Scotia.
No one from Public Health was available for an interview with the CBC on Friday, but when asked why the extra layer of precaution was being removed at such a critical time, spokesperson Carla Adams said in an emailed response, "It's part capacity and part strategy, in that public health wants everyone in the central zone to get tested.
"So if it is still issuing low-risk exposure notifications, it may falsely suggest to some that they aren't at risk. By creating an expectation around testing, it does allow public health to get higher-risk exposure notices out to the public faster."
Adams added that "if you are out in public in the central zone, you have likely been to a low-risk exposure site and should be tested."
She said "when things settle down a bit in Halifax," the low-risk exposures in the central zone would likely return to the list.
Decision makes sense, says researcher
Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infectious disease researcher and clinician at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said removing sites such as grocery stores from the list makes sense.
"Even with these variants, they're very transmittable, but people in grocery stores are not near each other for any length of time … and it does take at least a certain amount of time for this virus to spread from person to person," said Barrett, who was not involved in the decision.
Barrett urged people to make testing a part of their routine.
Asked whether people may be getting weary of the public health message to get tested, Barrett said she believes Nova Scotians will be able to get past "testing fatigue."
"I have a lot of colleagues in Ontario and they said, 'There's no way you're going to get people to come out again and do this all over again at such high numbers.' And fortunately, we seem to have a population of people who understand benefit and risk and how to bring this back down so we can go back to quasi normal again very quickly.…
"People understand the risk and they've been showing up."
Information on where and how to get tested for COVID-19 in Nova Scotia can be found here.
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