Covid and Green Beer

Question: What is happening with Covid in Halifax and in Nova Scotia now?
Answer: your guess is as good as mine. In fact, we’ve gone from the premier and the chief medical officer of health telling us everything, to telling us nothing.

We’ve been told Covid is “in the community” and we just have to “live with it.” Dr Strang, NS’s chief medical officer of health, reinforced “healthy habits… like staying home when we’re sick, testing when we need to, limiting our number of close contacts and wearing a mask, particularly when in indoor spaces,” in his media conference on Feb. 23.

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Green Beer & Good Times

Because Covid remains “in the community” we still need to wear masks indoors, unless seated at restaurant or bar tables, until March 21. The reason that date was picked out of the air is because the health officials are concerned that Covid could get a boost as a result of celebrations on St Patrick’s Day. In pre-Pandemic times, bars opened early and stayed open late. Student pubs were open long hours on most campuses. Green beer was poured into glasses that were often shared, and some people wore t-shirts and hats which asked others to “Kiss me I’m Irish”. Bar-goers lounged inside and outside of pubs, there were singalongs and huge crowds roamed from bar to bar in downtown Halifax.

Without announcing it specifically, the plan must be for a subdued St Patrick’s Day on March 17 — with just two public health restrictions in place. The restrictions are a 75% cap on customers in bars and restaurants, plus “distancing as much as can be achieved with their specific physical space.”

But where do we now go for answers to what to do about Covid after Mar. 21? Clearly Dr Strang is now mainly out of the picture, as more and more pronouncements are coming direct from Premier Tim Houston. Dr Strang seems sidelined so the political message can be one of “business as usual.” That means Covid-19 (which some say is rife especially among students from elementary to high school) is no longer considered a threat to the health of older people and those with pre-existing conditions. This despite the fact that the hospitalizations and deaths show most victims are typically over 65 years old. More recently we read that the numbers who enter the hospital because of Covid symptoms are dwarfed by the numbers that catch Covid when they are already in-patients at the hospitals.

Medicine Bear Helping Sick Person, by Norval Morrisseau (1979).

Silencing of Dr Strang

Is Houston silencing Strang and other medical experts?
Houston seems to be singing from the same songbook as other right-wing premiers in provinces which have demonstrated a basic disregard for health provisions and facts about who the sufferers are.

We only have to remember back to earlier in 2022, when Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe insisted Covid was under control –as he sent hundreds of Covid patients to out-of-province hospitals because Saskatchewan’s hospitals were overwhelmed.

“The overall health of our population is tied to the health of our racialized communities, and especially our Indigenous population.”

Souradet Shaw, a Winnipeg epidemiologist

And we can look at Manitoba which has the dubious distinction of having the second highest death rate from Covid-19 in Canada (the first is Quebec). More than 1700 people in Manitoba, have died of Covid over the last two years – compared to 218 in Nova Scotia. Manitoba’s population is 27% larger than Nova Scotia’s but deaths are almost seven times more frequent. Manitoba’s medical officer of health has publicly stated that the relatively poor health of Manitobans prior to the pandemic played a role in the high death rate. As a Winnipeg epidemiologist noted, “The overall health of our population is tied to the health of our racialized communities, and especially our Indigenous population… [where] the legacies of colonialism and systemic racism are still being played out [which] systematically create barriers to health and wellness.”

Except that Nova Scotians overall also have poor general health. A 2015 report by the Conference Board of Canada which looked a rates of disease, obesity, infant mortality, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle, gave Nova Scotia a grade of D – the same grade as Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

If the medical officers and the politicians have some proof that we are safe, they’re not doing a very good job of justifying it to us.

Then, closer to home there is New Brunswick, where the death rate stands at 317. Despite NB having a population 21% smaller than Nova Scotia’s, its death rate is 31% bigger than ours.
The premiers of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick have announced grand re-opening plans, as did Premier Houston. Indeed, by the end of March, all these provinces will have dropped health precautions, dropped mask mandates and increased allowable sizes of social gatherings. Yet today one rarely hears from doctors, or the medical officers of health or from epidemiologists about whether this is a good plan or not. Instead the business lobby and its friends extol the virtues of re-opening, a positive outlook and a refresh a call-out for more tourism, shopping and entertainment. If the medical officers and the politicians have some proof that we are safe, they’re not doing a very good job of justifying it to us.

A Floating Petri Dish

The Trudeau government has announced cruise ships are welcome to dock at Canadian ports. More than 150 cruise ships are set to berth in Halifax over the next five months. Does anyone recall the dangers presented by cruise ships in late winter 2020? Does anyone recall them being called “floating petri dishes” because they pack 3,000 to 5,000 people aboard and were breeding grounds for COVID. Most passengers (and crew) experience a cruise from indoors; they stay in small state rooms; they eat in large groups at indoor restaurants and bars, attend giant theatres, share public washrooms and use the same air-conditioning system. One article stated that about one-third of passengers are elderly people “who are more susceptible to infectious diseases than the rest of the population. “ Yet, in the interests of tourism, MP Omar Alghabra, Minister of Transport, has stated that providing passengers are fully vaccinated and have the molecular or rapid test for Covid – they are free to travel to our cities.

Opening up is not confined to cruise ships. Shopping is a major driver for our economy and retail stores, bars and restaurants have suffered hugely in the last two years. So as of Mar. 21, there are no limits to these pursuits either.

Cruise ship: Courtesy Cruise Radio

All of this could be well and good.
I might accept shelving masks, opening up restaurants and bars, and having no limits in malls or other indoor venues. I might accept it if I heard from Dr Strang and other experts this in fact is a good idea and one they endorse. And if they explained it as clearly as they did at the height of the pandemic.

Something tells me I won’t be hearing from them.

Featured Image: Traveling Woman with Newspaper, by Louis Le Brocquy (Irish, 1916-2012). This painting is dated 1947-48.


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