Premier Iain Rankin and Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, have announced stricter COVID-19 measures for all of Nova Scotia and harsher penalties for those who break public health rules.
All Nova Scotians are now being asked to avoid travel outside their immediate communities unless it's for essential reasons, like work or medical appointments. People were already asked not to travel in and out of the Halifax area as of Friday morning, when the region was placed under a four-week lockdown.
At a press conference Sunday, Rankin said the official order on this change will come this week, and will be in place until at least May 20.
Gathering limits for both indoors and outdoors have also been lowered to 10 people for all regions outside the Halifax area. The limits are still five people within Halifax.
Although the premier said it was heartwarming to see people showing up in droves to get tested over the weekend, he said it's still not enough to stop the spread of the virus.
The only way to slow the spread is limiting movement, Rankin said, which is why travel restrictions within Nova Scotia will be imposed. He added that this step will be officially written into an order this week.
Both Rankin and Strang had harsh words for those who have been breaking regulations, especially the 22 people ticketed earlier this weekend at a large gathering. Dalhousie University has confirmed some of those at the gathering were students and the university will consider suspensions.
Premier, Strang call out rule-breakers
A photo began circulating on social media on Saturday showing a group of young people purportedly holding tickets issued by the police.
The photo is captioned "Tickets on tickets #worthit."
"I was infuriated," Rankin said about the event.
"'Why? Why would you put yourselves at risk, and worse, someone else?"
Rankin said he was relieved to hear police issued fines under the Health Protection Act, but he said the current punishment of $1,000 is not enough of a deterrent so the province has made it $2,000.
Strang said while those at the gathering showed "callous and casual behaviour," there have been "lots of" concerning incidents.
Those include various reports of people leaving the Halifax area against current rules for shopping and recreation, Strang said.
"I know these examples make people angry and afraid. But I would ask that we all focus less on what others are doing … we can't control the behaviour of others, but we can control our own actions," he said.
While Sunday set a daily record for case numbers in Nova Scotia, Strang expects to see them start coming down later this week.
Close eye on Cape Breton cases
There is only community spread in the central zone so far, but Strang said Public Health is keeping a close eye on a "cluster" of cases in Cape Breton related to a hockey event in the Membertou Sport & Wellness Centre April 17-18.
In a release Sunday, Chief Terry Paul of Membertou First Nation said the person who tested positive was not a member of the Membertou community.
Paul said the centre will be closed for cleaning and the building's staff will be tested as a precaution. The Membertou YMCA will also remain closed for now.
A release from Nova Scotia Health on Sunday updated the instructions for anyone was at the site during the exposure windows.
Anyone who worked at or visited the following locations on the specified dates and times should book a COVID-19 test on the self-assessment website or by contacting 811, regardless of whether they have COVID-19 symptoms.
Individuals who were at the following locations during the listed days and times need to self-isolate while they await test results, regardless of whether they have symptoms of COVID-19.
Membertou Sport & Wellness Centre on April 17 from 6:15-10 p.m. and April 18 from 12:45-5:15 p.m. Anyone exposed may develop symptoms through May 2. Even if your test result is negative you must continue to isolate up to and including May 2, 2021 at midnight, 14 days from the potential exposure due to coming in close contact with someone who had COVID-19. You will also need to get tested again on April 30, 2021. (Updated Sunday).
There will also be a testing site set up at the Membertou Entertainment Centre on Monday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for those with or without symptoms, a separate release said.
Due to the recent arena exposure, Membertou community members and staff will have a specialized line for testing leading into the left door of the testing site. There are no appointments.
9 more schools affected
Sunday evening, the department of education sent out a news release announcing nine new schools with COVID-19 cases.
In the Halifax region, Bedford South School, Chebucto Heights Elementary, Joseph Howe Elementary, and Oxford School were affected. Those schools will remain closed to students until Thursday, April 29.
In the eastern health zone, Jubilee Elementary in Sydney Mines will also be closed until Thursday, April 29.
The other four schools affected are within a family of schools already closed until May 10: Atlantic View Elementary in Lawrencetown, Brookhouse Elementary in Dartmouth, Cole Harbour District High in Dartmouth, and Nelson Whynder Elementary in North Preston.
Out of an abundance of caution, public health is recommending all staff and students get tested for COVID-19.
The cases connected to the schools will likely be included in provincial COVID-19 reporting on Monday.
Halifax schools without cases will remain open
Despite more cases appearing in Halifax-area schools and certain families of schools moving to online learning, Rankin said the rest will remain open.
The province is monitoring the situation and if "we should have a more serious outbreak, we will react quickly," Rankin said.
The press conference comes after many recent exposure notifications, and a record 63 new cases on Sunday for a total of 263 active cases.
It is the highest single-day increase for Nova Scotia since the pandemic began.
There were 52 cases announced Saturday for a two-day total of 115.
Long list of exposure notices
The province's health authority reported a long list of possible exposures Saturday night, mostly in the central health zone where community spread of the virus has been a concern as cases rise.
The previous highest number of new cases in a day was almost exactly a year ago on April 23, 2020 when 55 cases were announced.
Fifty-seven cases are in the central zone, four of which were identified at schools on Saturday night. Caledonia Junior High, Prince Andrew High School and Astral Drive Elementary in Dartmouth and Citadel High School in Halifax reported one case each.
Three cases are in the eastern zone, one of which was identified Saturday at Breton Education Centre in New Waterford.
Two cases are in the western zone, and one case is in the northern zone.
All school-connected cases can be found here.
Five people are in hospital.
Due to an increased number of investigations in recent days, the province said Sunday that exposure categories for cases — travel, close contact, or under investigation — is not always available by release time and a zone breakdown with these categories will no longer be provided regularly.
While there is only community spread in the central zone so far, the province said Sunday that the eastern, northern and western zones are being closely monitored.
The province completed 7,520 tests on Saturday. There were also 4,565 tests administered on Saturday at the rapid-testing pop-up sites in Halifax, Dartmouth and Lower Sackville.
To search by exposure site name or area, anyone can also visit the provincial database here.
Testing ramped up in Cape Breton
The health authority is also offering additional asymptomatic testing in Sydney on Sunday and Monday in response to the recent increase of potential COVID-19 public exposures and the heightened demand for testing, according to a release.
The testing site will be located in the cafeteria of the Cape Breton Regional Hospital at 1482 George St. To access the site, people should park in the back or side parking lots of the hospital, and enter through the rear entrance.
This clinic is available for all ages, and drop-ins only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You will be required to register upon arrival, and registration closes at 3:30 p.m. Dates and times may be extended depending on demand.
Due to this testing, some elective surgical procedures scheduled for Monday and Tuesday in Glace Bay and North Sydney are being postponed to allow for additional swabbing capacity, according to the health authority.
A total of 34 procedures at Glace Bay Hospital, and 35 procedures at Northside General Hospital, will be postponed.
These elective procedures include ophthalmology surgeries, endoscopies, gynecological and dental surgeries.
No other surgical service reductions are planned at this time.
Long lines formed for rapid testing sites in the Halifax area on Sunday as well, some even before the doors opened. These include:
East Dartmouth Community Centre at 50 Caledonia Rd., Dartmouth from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Halifax Convention Centre at the Argyle St. entrance, 1650 Argyle St., Halifax from noon-7 p.m.
Alderney Gate Public Library, 60 Alderney Dr., Dartmouth from noon-7 p.m.
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