The Second Stage of Dealing With Covid-19 Requires Different Policy-Making
Posted May 15, 2020
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in Nova Scotia called for quick and decisive action, and effective communications. The province did well on both counts. Now it needs to recognize that we are in a new phase.
Deaths are sadly still occurring at the Northwood facility in Halifax. Except for that, the province is doing well, especially outside of the Central Zone. As of May 15th, there are, outside of long-term care, only 19 active cases. Just a handful of these will be in the other three zones. New cases are averaging only 4 per day, again concentrated in long-term care and the Central Zone.
Last week’s article argued that a more zone-specific program of relaxing the rules is needed. With one exception, it generated many supportive comments.
Perhaps the most telling was one thoughtful correspondent who said he had been very supportive of the initial direction but now “they are losing me,” by which he meant that he could not see a logical connection between the available data and the province’s current decisions.
In the beginning, what mattered was to be quick and decisive. People understood that the approach was imprecise, but we were all in the same boat. That critical first phase is over. The situations of households differ markedly.
Some adults are home because their industries are shut down: travel and hospitality, most retail, culture and entertainment, dentists, physiotherapists, and most surgeons. Others have work but are forced to do it from home: civil servants, teachers, and many office workers. A third group is in jobs that are busy and sometimes stressful: front line health, first responders, groceries and pharmacies, and delivery drivers. Others are healthy retirees needing to get out and exercise.
Some families have small children, others have teenagers, and some have no children at home. Some do not have internet. Some live in nursing homes, which are the highest risk area. Others are in parts of the province that have not had a new case in weeks.
The province’s choices need to be sensitive to these differences:
- It was announced that remote schooling would stop on June 5th, meaning that they will have lost a total of five weeks of schooling. The minister has explained that the choice was made because some parents find homeschooling very stressful.
That makes sense for some, for example, if they are working from home and have small children.
It is not as sensible for families having one or both parents not working. The choice may not be a good idea for parents with teenagers, who can be a greater source of mischief and stress if they are hanging around the house with nothing to do.
The minister has assured interested parents that materials would still be available in June and during the summer. That is an insult. It demeans and ignores the valuable role that teachers play in supporting students and relieving pressure on parents.
It would have been better to continue providing remote classes while making it clear that families could opt-out if their circumstances made it too difficult.
- One of the best assets we have in the battle is a robust testing capacity. The QEII lab can do 1200 tests in their 24-hour day, but the current daily activity is just a few hundred, many of them for Northwood patients and staff.
The province has successfully eliminated three infection clusters, in part because it can swiftly deploy substantial testing capacity where needed.
Allowing the least affected zones to proceed more quickly than the others is not without risks. But if a cluster of new infections occurs, it is possible to revive restrictions on movements of people and use the testing capacity to regain control.
- On April 23 we had 55 new infections. The press release of the day included a paragraph beginning with: “It is now more important than ever for Nova Scotians to strictly adhere to the public health orders and directives…” Fair enough on that day and many near it, but it has been on every release before and since, including those with just one new case.
How would that resonate with someone in Digby whose zone has not seen a new case in 24 days?
Nova Scotians are in a different phase now, one in which we are doing more than just hiding in our houses. We are carefully exploring how to safely reopen our communities. Communications reflecting that reality will be more effective at maintaining public support.
Nova Scotia ‘s original “lockdown” order was less onerous than many jurisdictions in Canada and elsewhere. On balance that was a good choice. It has been largely successful outside of long-term care centres and is unlikely to have been the source of the outbreak at Northwood.
It has nevertheless been burdensome, and government should be looking for every opportunity to responsibly ease it. To keep Nova Scotians on board will require policies that are not one size fits all.
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