We Can Open Up More Quickly
Posted June 3, 2021
Chief Medical Officer Robert Strang is by his own admission more cautious than his colleagues across the country. Premier Rankin has reinforced that tendency. That has often served us well but sometimes gets in the way of good decision-making.
The third wave of Covid was not a surprise given the experiences of other provinces. The speed with which it grew was greater than expected.
The province hit a peak of 227 cases on May 7th at which time it said that school closures would be extended until at least the end of May. By May 19th that had dropped to 83, still too high but clearly an indication that containment strategies were beginning to work.
It was puzzling therefore that Strang announced “we’re continuing the restrictions at least until the second week of June.”
The speed with which case counts have fallen has been equally swift, so much so that Rankin announced school reopenings for most of the province on May 29th, and added the hotspots of Sydney and Halifax on May 31st.
Teachers and school officials felt wrong-footed. Many had already begun putting things away for the summer. The sudden transition back to in-person learning required two days of no schooling at all.
The swiftness of the drop in cases should not have been a big surprise. There is strong evidence of the benefits of vaccination. Despite being first in line for the needle, many Americans have been reluctant.
There are three million shots available every day but fewer than 2 million a day are used. Just over 50% of Americans have had at least one dose, a level that Nova Scotia passed in May.
Despite that and very lax public health measures in many states, the level of American vaccination has kept the case count per capita consistently lower than Canada’s.
Meanwhile, Canada’s provinces are rolling out their reopening plans. In all cases, the phases require reducing or already low rates of new cases and hospitalizations. The differences have more to do with the style of the different public health officials than current case counts or vaccination status.
British Columbia is requiring first dose of a minimum of 70% of those over 18 to reach their penultimate stage of opening. Quebec’s corresponding threshold is 75% first doses for those over 12. New Brunswick will be more open than Nova Scotia’s second stage on June 7th and will be more open than that at 75%.
Nova Scotia’s Dr. Strang is an outlier, insisting on 75% first dose in the total population (85% of the eligible group) for to reach phase 4.
Nova Scotians have been especially enthusiastic. As of June 1st, 57% of the total population were vaccinated, up 8% from a week earlier. Appointments continue to be well booked. At that pace, we will cross over the phase 2 requirement of 60% of the total population this weekend, the phase 3 level of 65% next week, and the phase 4 level of 75% by June 21st.
Case counts have dropped sharply as have hospitalizations. Only a few of them have been other than close contacts. The Western Region has averaged less than a case a day during the past week.
To date, all of the epidemiological requirements have been met. However, Strang and Rankin also prescribed two-to-four-week intervals for each stage, meaning that phase 4 could not be reached before mid-July.
Long-suffering travel and hospitality operators are understandably upset. So are retail businesses, office workers, and families that want more social contact.
Nova Scotians have responded fully to the call. It is time to drop the two-week wait requirement between phases. If necessary, go slower on rules for out-of-province visitors. Dr. Strang and Premier Rankin, you were willing to overrule your mid-June date for opening schools because it proved to be too cautious.
Do the same with your timetable. Put away the calendar and let the epidemiology rule.
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