HALIFAX — Nova Scotia has its first possible case of community spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Five new cases of the virus were confirmed in the province over the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 73.
Most of those new cases can be traced back to travel, or to someone who had direct contact with an already infected person. One of them, however, can’t yet be linked to any other already known cases.
Health officials still don’t know the exact source of the infected person’s exposure and won’t yet confirm it’s definitively related to “community spread.”
But Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer, did say the case is connected to a St. Patrick’s Day party that approximately 50 people attended.
He said that demonstrates the importance of the public health measures the provincial government has put in place.
“This case illustrates why it’s so important that the things we have put in place, people adhere to them,” Strang said. “How this virus spreads is when people get together in close contact.”
Premier Stephen McNeil said that whatever the source of the case ends up being, Nova Scotians should take it as a warning.
“This is a wake-up call. Everyone needs to avoid social gatherings,” he said.
Healthcare employees in the province are working hard to be ready if things “get out of control,” he said, “but none of this matters, none of it matters, it’s all for naught if you don’t do your part by self-isolating.”
“COVID-19 was passed on at a social gathering, now we have to find out how far it has gone. I’m not trying to scare you, I’m actually trying to convince you. When we say stop gathering and stay home, we mean it.”
Strang said he’s always expected community spread of the virus to happen in Nova Scotia, which is why the province has continued to ramp up its testing efforts.
He said the province is now testing anybody who’s in hospital at risk of contracting COVID-19, immediately testing anyone who’s been in contact with a known case, and increasing the number of tests done at its assessment sites.
Yesterday the province analyzed 474 COVID-19 tests, something that would have taken nearly two weeks a month ago. Strang also said the testing lab has the ability to operate 24/7 if the need arises.
As of March 26, 3,201 people have tested negative for the virus in Nova Scotia.
Strang today also addressed concerns around public transit in the city, after the public learned a Halifax Transit employee has tested positive for COVID-19.
He said the person involved worked at a Halifax Transit facility but doesn’t drive a bus so there’s “nothing at all about this case” that should make people think riding the bus isn’t safe.
He added that while preventing the spread of COVID-19 important, it’s also important to “minimize social disruption.”
Many people still rely on the bus to get to work or buy groceries, he said, which makes it essential to preserve the city’s transit system for as long as possible.