Health officials in Nova Scotia say they are learning from the rest of the country as it prepares for the arrival of a third wave of COVID-19.
Nova Scotia has not yet called a third wave in the province, while provinces like Ontario and Quebec are reporting record numbers of deaths and hospitalizations due to the virus. Just last week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford pleaded with Atlantic premiers for resources to aid the province in its COVID-19 response.
While Atlantic Canada has been praised for maintaining low case numbers, it’s not immune to the spread of COVID-19 variants, said to be more transmissible and deadly.
This month, New Brunswick reported record numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations and of residents in intensive care with the virus. The province had 138 active cases on Wednesday and 15 hospitalizations, with five in ICU.
Nova Scotia Health (NSHA) says it is closely monitoring situations outside of provincial borders and that hospitals are prepared for a rise in cases.
Alyson Lamb, senior director of COVID-19 planning and implementation at NSHA, says the province has learned a lot from the first and second waves.
“Staff continue to work through scenarios to ensure that they are ready to accept patients within those COVID-designated beds when needed,” Lamb said.
“I think overall we are prepared for what is to come and we continue to watch closely to make sure we have capacity.”
As of last week, Nova Scotia’s ICU occupancy was at about 75 per cent, which, according to NSHA, is enough to respond to an initial surge in COVID-19 cases.
There are also 46 beds designated for COVID-19 patients in specified inpatient units.
The health agency says regional care units across the province are also ready to be mobilized when needed.
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Nova Scotia reported its highest single-day case count on Wednesday, with 25 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed.
Shelly McNeil, chief of infectious diseases at NSHA, says Nova Scotia is in a good place when it comes to preparedness.
“We have the advantage of being able to monitor closely exactly what’s happening with the variants in other parts of the world, in terms of the proportion of cases that require admission to hospital and admission to an intensive care unit.”
McNeil said the province can use real-time data about what is happening in other areas to inform expectations around capacity needs in Nova Scotia.
“We’re confident that with our plans we have in place, we would be able to respond should we see cases begin to occur here due to the variants or otherwise,” said McNeil.
This month, a New Brunswick health agency said it had to limit new admissions to the Edmundston Regional Hospital “as much as possible” and that new COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization in the area would be diverted to Fredericton. Intensive care units in that region were “at capacity” soon after the spread of variant cases was confirmed.
According to Lamb, in the case of reaching capacity in a Nova Scotia COVID-19 unit, the province is able to transport patients safely.
“We do transport patients on a daily basis to meet their needs and we would do the same for COVID,” said Lamb.
Nova Scotia Health has a service reduction strategy ready to go in the event of a COVID-19 case surge in the province. This was the agency’s strategy for the first and second waves too.
But the province’s response will be a bit different this time around.
“In the first wave, we dramatically reduced hospital elective procedures across the board,” said McNeil.
“We’re much more able to look at our capacity regionally and by hospital and really focus on service reductions only being in those areas that are needed to respond directly to increased cases in that area.”
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McNeil says while the province is well-prepared, there is anxiety among health teams.
“I think all of us are watching with concern what’s going on across the country,” she said.
“We don’t want to be in a position where we’re seeing lots of hospitalizations.”
But McNeil also says health officials are confident in the province’s ability to strengthen public health measures if that is needed, and that will make Nova Scotians safer.
“I think people in general are feeling perhaps anxious, but also optimistic and prepared.”
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