With spikes in COVID-19 cases this month, close social groups without physical distancing in Halifax Regional Municipality will be limited to five people starting Monday.
Premier Stephen McNeil and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang announced new restrictions on Friday in light of increasing case numbers linked to social activity. McNeil called it a problem particularly with young adults aged 18 to 35.
“They are going out when they are feeling sick, they are going out in large groups, and quite frankly different groups, and are not distancing,” he said. “They are living as if COVID doesn’t exist.”
The new gathering restrictions start Monday in HRM’s urban and suburban areas. These areas include Halifax County from Hubbards to Porters Lake and Mount Uniacke and Enfield in Hants County.
The restrictions, in place until Dec. 21, include:
- Only five people can gather in a close social group without physical distancing, down from 10
- A household can have more than five members, but no more than five can go out together at a time
- Households are limited to no more than five visitors at a time
- 25 people, down from 50, can gather with physical distancing for informal indoor and outdoor social events like a neighbourhood street party
- Indoor events run by a recognized business or organization can have 50 per cent of the venue’s capacity to a maximum of 100 people with physical distancing, down from 200
- Outdoor events run by a recognized business or organization can have 150 people with physical distancing, down from 250
In addition, there’s a ban on adult day programs for seniors living in the community and gatherings at long-term care facilities are capped at five people (including residents and staff).
New COVID cases
On Friday, five new COVID cases were identified in Nova Scotia’s central zone, which includes HRM and parts of Hants County. Three of these cases are under investigation while the remaining two are linked to previously reported cases.
Nova Scotia currently has 28 active cases, increasing the total number of cases since the start of November to 51.
“We are seeing community spread and it continues and continues to increase,” Strang said. The current number of community spread cases is about 10 to 12. He worries about the potential for this situation to “snowball” if the numbers get any higher.
“While travel sparked our initial cases a few weeks ago, it is now social activity that’s fanning the flames and causing the virus to circulate more widely,” Strang said.
McNeil expressed concern that the province is at a critical point.
“If we don’t act now, it may be too late,” McNeil said. “That’s why we’re taking a targeted approach to the central zone to contain this virus here and slow the spread.”
Auburn Drive and Graham Creighton school closures
Due to a third confirmed COVID case in one family of schools, Auburn Drive High School and Graham Creighton Junior High will stay closed for two weeks. The school gymnasiums will be closed and sports programs will be cancelled during this 14-day period.
“This step reflects what is evolving in broader HRM, the significant level of concern among parents and teachers and has been done out of an abundance of caution,” Strang said.
On Nov. 16, two cases were associated with Auburn Drive and Graham Creighton, with one confirmed at each school. Since then, one new case has been linked to Auburn Drive.
Both schools are scheduled to reopen on Dec. 7.
Mandatory provincewide contact tracing for restaurants, bars
As of Monday, all dine-in restaurants and bars in Nova Scotia must collect the name, contact information and the date and time of visit for every patron who dines in the establishment. Dine-in groups are limited to five per table.
“The employees are there to serve you, not police you,” McNeil said. “When you break the protocols, you are putting them at risk, and quite frankly that’s not fair to them or to their families.”
Starting early next week, bar staff in peninsular Halifax will be subject to voluntary testing over a seven-day period.
These tests will begin in the downtown Halifax area and expand if necessary, Strang explained, “because that it where we’re seeing the most problems right now.”
New long-term care restrictions
New provincewide restrictions for long-term care facilities were also announced on Friday. The restrictions are as follows:
- Residents can only leave their facilities for medical/dental appointments
- A registered designated caregiver can take a resident for a sightseeing car ride, but they cannot include additional passengers or stops for shopping or visits of any kind or use drive-thrus
- A facility can continue sightseeing outings using their vehicles, but physical distancing is required, no other passengers are permitted in the vehicle and there are no stops of any kind including use of drive-thrus
“This is a challenging time for residents and their families,” Strang said. “But we are doing this to protect them from the virus as our case numbers rise.”
Symptoms and testing
Anyone with one of the following symptoms should complete an online COVID-19 self-assessment or call 811:
- New or worsening cough
Anyone with two or more of the following symptoms should also be assessed:
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath
- Runny nose