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Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, speaks in Halifax, on March 6, 2020.The Canadian Press

Nova Scotia is ready to deal with a second wave of COVID-19 should a resurgence occur, the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health told a legislature committee on Tuesday.

Dr. Robert Strang told the health committee that any future response would also include lessons learned from an outbreak that claimed 53 lives at the Northwood long-term care facility in Halifax this spring. Nova Scotia has seen 65 deaths overall.

“Look across the country, there’s no doubt that COVID has highlighted long-term care as an issue,” Dr. Strang said.

The province is conducting a review into the Northwood outbreak along with another looking broadly at infection control in the long-term care sector.

Dr. Strang said work is continuing to ensure strengthened plans are in place at individual long-term care facilities in the event of another outbreak.

Deputy health minister Dr. Kevin Orrell, said the two reviews are on course to be ready with recommendations by Sept. 15.

In response to a question from NDP committee member Susan LeBlanc, Dr. Orrell said an increase to operational funding is under consideration. He pointed out that money has not been an issue since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We are $368-million in deficit at the Department of Health and Wellness, and we still will do what we have to do for the people of Nova Scotia and for the vulnerable people in these nursing homes,” Dr. Orrell said.

Dr. Orrell was also questioned by Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston about the resumption of non-emergency health procedures and tests that were put on hold on March 17 to free up hospital beds.

The deputy minister said procedure rebookings are under way, although a backlog remains. Dr. Orrell said hospital admissions across the province have also ramped up to a range of between 90 per cent to 100 per cent of capacity.

“In fact that’s probably more than we would like because we still have to maintain capacity for the next wave, so there has to be some adjustment of that.”

Nova Scotia currently has three active cases of COVID-19 and Dr. Strang said measures currently in place around border entry, the mandatory use of masks in most indoor areas, and the required testing of students returning to universities and colleges has the province “well positioned for what’s to come.”

He also credited the response of the public, who he said acted quickly to comply with the measures taken by health officials.

“All-in-all Nova Scotia has fared well,” Dr. Strang said. “What got us through the first wave – strong preparation and a commitment to keeping cases low – will get us through the second wave.”

So far, Nova Scotia has had 1,086 positive COVID-19 cases with 1,018 cases now resolved. No one is currently in hospital.

Dr. Strang said testing capacity had increased since the onset of the pandemic from less than 200 a day to 1,500 a day.

“At our peak of new cases we were testing more people per capita than any other province,” he said.

To date, Nova Scotia has had 80,682 negative test results.

Dr. Theresa Tam says rising COVID-19 case counts in several parts of the country understandably worry parents who are sending their children back to school this month. She says keeping distant, wearing masks and washing hands is vital not only among students and their families, but for everyone who wants to keep schools from suffering outbreaks.

The Canadian Press

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