The results from the province’s recent decision to lift some public health restrictions in the short-term will dictate whether more measures are loosened in coming weeks.
On May 1, Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, announced the easing of some measures around COVID-19.
The premier called it a “slow and steady” opening of Nova Scotia to gradually get back to some normalcy.
Since the provincial state of emergency has been extended to Sunday, May 17, public health directives established in March around maintaining six feet of distancing and remaining in social gatherings no larger than five, remain in place.
At-home learning will continue for students until at least May 14 and all public schools and licensed child care providers will remain closed.
Despite that reality, the fact that some parks, trails, and fields are opening, and that people can put their boats in the water, go to a driving range, or do some sport fishing, was not lost on a public that has been cooped-up since mid-March.
Provincial and municipal parks can re-open – including school grounds and sports fields – and trails are allowed to open. Dr. Strang asked Nova Scotians to enjoy what is in their communities, and if people have to drive to a trail, turn-around if there is already a significant number of people there.
For now, beaches and playgrounds will remain closed. Dr. Strang pointed to the challenges in keeping social distance for kids and the many high touch surfaces that cannot be sanitized at playgrounds. He said some people have to travel to access beaches.
People are allowed to use and visit community gardens, while garden centres, nurseries and similar businesses can open, but the same rules in effect for stores and businesses across the province still apply to these outlets. Dr. Strang pointed out that these facilities help address food security issues.
Sport fishing is permitted from shore or boat, but fishing derbies or festivals are not allowed. And people from outside the province towing boats for sport fishing will not be allowed into Nova Scotia.
People can attend boating, yacht or sailing clubs for the purpose of preparing boats for use. Food services within marinas will be limited to take-out like other restaurants. Dr. Strang said boating must be done with people from the same household.
Golf driving ranges can open, including those at golf clubs, but the course must remain closed. Golf clubs can perform necessary maintenance and preparations for opening and their restaurants will also be allowed to fill take-out orders.
People can use their cottages, but use is restricted to one household unit at a time. Travel must be directly to the cottage and back, and travelling back and forth frequently between the cottage and the primary residence is discouraged.
Provincial and private campgrounds remain closed, but they can perform necessary maintenance and preparations for opening. An exception is recreational vehicles parked year-round at private campgrounds, which can be used but must follow the same rules as cottages.
Private campgrounds can open for seasonal campers in fixed RV campsites, but Dr. Strang explained that no weekend or short-term campers are permitted.
Drive-in religious services will be allowed, as long as people stay in their cars, they are parked two metres apart and there are no interactions between people in cars, or between people in cars and others.
On top of what was announced recently, both the premier and the doctor acknowledged that a phased plan to lift more public health restrictions is under development.
The premier asked health minister Randy Delorey and the deputy minister of health to speak with health care leaders about offering short stay or day surgery procedures, and opening up day clinics.
The premier also directed Dr. Strang to open discussions with government departments about re-opening sectors like restaurants, cosmetology, small businesses, and sports and recreation.
Calling the decision a “road map” to opening the economy, Dr. Strang added future stages will depend on how this first phase progresses.
Because many of the big decisions, such as whether to re-open schools, extend the state of emergency and re-open more services, businesses and attractions are falling after the Victoria Day weekend from May 16-18, many are speculating that big news will be arriving around that time.
Also fueling speculation is the fact that the number of new cases in Nova Scotia continues to fall, meanwhile in areas outside the Halifax Regional Municipality, like the Strait area, there hasn’t been a new case in more than two weeks.
But if Nova Scotians fail this initial test, if the numbers of new cases climb, if the rate of infection increases, and people ignore the rules, many of those plans might be changed, postponed or cancelled altogether.
If people go to trails even if the parking lots are full, if people from outside the same house go boating together or stay at cottages together, and if people ignore physical distancing and social isolation rules, then that beautiful dream of some normalcy will remain just that.
As much as it ever was, it is now vital that Nova Scotians adhere to public health guidelines, remain cautious, work for the greater good, and keep doing what they’ve been doing for the past two months.
The number of new cases in Nova Scotia keeps dwindling and even with this new trend, it remains incumbent that the public act as if the province is at its peak.
If not, it could be a long summer and a deadly fall.