Nova Scotia shuts down poultry plant hit by COVID-19; school break extended
By Keith Doucette
HALIFAX — Nova Scotia has closed a poultry plant where at least four cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed and announced it will extend the upcoming seasonal break for schools as it battles to contain the virus.
Premier Stephen McNeil identified Eden Valley Poultry, a processing plant in Berwick in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, as the site of an outbreak that was first announced on Tuesday.
McNeil said Friday the chicken-processing plant would remain closed for the next two weeks.
“We have no evidence of community spread at this point, but we have to act fast,” McNeil told reporters. “Starting immediately, we will enhance our testing throughout the valley.”
McNeil said mobile units and pop-up sites would be employed in order to test everyone in the region, even those without symptoms.
He said a number of tests have already been administered to plant employees, and public health is still awaiting the results for 300 people.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang said the initial two cases at the plant resulted from contact with a person who had travelled outside of the province while the other cases were likely exposed at the workplace.
“It’s one of the key pieces of information which is leading us to taking the aggressive steps,” said Strang.
The province reported nine new cases of COVID-19 and now has 65 active cases. Five were in the Halifax area, three in the western health zone and one in the northern zone.
Extending the holidays for schools
A school-based case was also identified at Shannon Park Elementary in Dartmouth — its second case this week. The school is already closed and it was announced that students would now return to class on Wednesday.
McNeil said that out of an “abundance of caution” the province had also decided to extend the holiday break by an extra week. Schools are now slated to close next Friday and will remain closed to students until Jan. 11. Teachers will return on Jan. 4 for professional development.
“Christmas is coming and we are concerned that as family and friends gather, even in small groups, COVID could show up,” he said. McNeil said the idea is to potentially identify cases before students return to school.
In New Brunswick, chief public health officer Dr. Jennifer Russell reported eight new cases of the disease and one new death Friday, the eighth overall since the pandemic began.
The person was in their 60s and from the Edmundston region, she said.
A virus outbreak was declared at the Edmundston Regional Hospital by public health Thursday after several cases were identified. Seven members of the hospital staff have since become infected and over 20 are currently self-isolating, Russell said.
The province is pushing the Edmundston region back to the orange level of COVID-19 recovery as of midnight Friday night as case counts in the region have doubled over the last five days and the positivity rate for tests sits above the national average.
“Local outbreaks are a fact of life in this pandemic and will be for months to come until we have a vaccine and the majority of New Brunswickers are immunized,” Russell said.
There are now 78 active cases in New Brunswick.
Meanwhile, Canada’s smallest province announced Friday that frontline health care workers and long-term care staff would be the first to get COVID-19 vaccinations there, beginning next week.
Dr. Heather Morrison, Prince Edward Island’s chief public health officer, said the province expects its initial 1,950 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to arrive early next week, with a clinic to be set up at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown on Wednesday.
More vaccine will arrive on the Island by the end of the month Morrison said, and regular weekly shipments are to land over the next few months.
Morrison added that subject to regulatory approval, it’s anticipated the Moderna vaccine, which can be shipped more easily, would arrive within the next month.
“The intention would be to move this (vaccine) quickly to long-term care residents across the province,” Morrison said.
In Newfoundland and Labrador Friday, officials reported one new case of COVID-19 while active cases of the disease sat at 20.
Chief public health officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said that all residents of the community of Harbour Breton were now being asked to get tested for the novel coronavirus after three cases were identified in the community.
With files from Danielle Edwards in Halifax