The Third Wave Was Not A Surprise

So here we go again. To understand where we are going, it is instructive to look at where we have been.

The seven-day average number of new cases in Nova Scotia rose above five for the first time on March 22, 2020, and continued for seven weeks on May 11, hitting a peak of 35. Of our 67 deaths so far, only five have occurred since early June. Dr. Strang and his team were feeling their way forward and responded cautiously to the reduction. In-person schooling never resumed and restrictions on many sectors were only slowly relaxed.

The other three Atlantic provinces had similar experiences but the Atlantic Bubble did not begin until July 3.

To their great credit, Dr. Strang’s team did not prescribe one-size-fits-all solutions. Rather, they engaged in detailed discussion with various sectors of the economy and worked with them to find sensible approaches. Thus restaurants were initially required to separate tables by six feet, but this was relaxed when rigid dividers could be provided.

Universities needed solutions to permit out of region students to arrive in September. Site-specific protocols were developed and largely successful.

Crucially, the construction sector, which knows a lot about safety protocols, was never shut down. That provided continuity in an area critical to our economy and to easing the housing shortage.

We had other advantages. Our population outside of Halifax is widely spread. Much of metro’s population live in low-density areas. We don’t have commuters packed together on subway cars.

The only province touching Nova Scotia is New Brunswick and there are just two public roads that cross the border. New Brunswick has several crossings into Maine and Quebec. Travellers by car from outside the region have to pass through New Brunswick’s filters before arriving at Nova Scotia’s border.

Nova Scotia has done well but Ontario, particularly the Greater Toronto Area, has faced a much more difficult challenge. So has Quebec and the lower mainland area of British Columbia. The kind of bubbles that the Atlantic provinces created individually and then collectively would be next to impossible for the other provinces.

The second wave skipped Newfoundland and Labrador and was comparatively mild in Nova Scotia, but it was strong enough to burst the Atlantic Bubble. The seven-day average was above five for four weeks starting on November 22, peaking at just over 16. No new deaths were recorded in Nova Scotia.

We then had almost four months of comparative calm. The running average of cases was still below five as recently as April 14. But there were warning signs.

Newfoundland and Labrador had a challenging spike in February. New Brunswick had a spike that started in early January and lasted six weeks, and another that started in late March and has only recently begun to subside.

Every other Canadian province has had a spike in April. A principal source for the infections was the India variant which is wreaking havoc there. The federal government was slow to cancel flights from India and Pakistan.

These waves were different than 2020. They were fuelled by variants that are more easily transmitted and have more serious impacts on younger people. New Brunswick had nine Covid-related deaths last year; they have 26 so far this year.

The federal government was also slow to order vaccines. The benefit of those is evident in the experience of highly vaccinated Israel which had one of the highest rates of infection until March but is now able to eliminate most public health measures.

More than half of Americans have been vaccinated and 16 states have dropped their mask mandate. Having had more than triple Canada’s case count per capita from the beginning, the US is now lower. It should be added that their death rate is still double ours, but it is continuing to decrease.

The third wave has hit Nova Scotia hard. The initial response was quickly escalated as the case count blew past previous highs. The seven-day average as of Friday was double the peak level last spring. It appears a downward trend has been established but it is too early to be confident about that.

The need for daily briefings has passed but perhaps election-bound Premier Rankin is glad for the opportunity to be visible.

Here is a fearless forecast of where we might be headed:

  1. The current lockdown will conclude on May 12.
  2. The expanded constraints on restaurants, retail businesses, gatherings, gyms, and personal services will last a week or two longer.
  3. Non-essential travel restrictions from outside the Atlantic provinces, even with quarantining, will persist for some time, perhaps well into June.
  4. The benefits of vaccination already being experienced by the sixty plus crowd will extend downward with vaccination rates in Nova Scotia for ages above 16 to reach 70% by the end of June.
  5. The Atlantic bubble will be renewed in the first half of June. Non-essential travel from the rest of Canada without quarantining will not happen before the end of July.

Nova Scotia’s experience with Covid will continue to be much less arduous than most places on the planet, for which we should continue to be grateful.


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