Nova Scotia reports 22 new COVID-19 cases, identifies cluster at StFX university

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HALIFAX — Nova Scotia reported 22 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday as officials said they were keeping a close eye on a developing cluster of cases at St. Francis Xavier University.

The school in Antigonish, N.S., posted on its website Tuesday morning that it had cancelled all remaining classes for the day "out of an abundance of caution," adding that examinations would begin as scheduled on Thursday.

Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, said a cluster of cases was identified Monday night, although there was no word yet on how many.

"We expect additional cases in the coming days," Strang told reporters. "Public health is working with the university to understand and manage this evolving situation."

He said the cluster is related to the university's graduate ring ceremony held on Friday and the sanctioned and informal social events that were held on and around the campus over the weekend.

"We have already confirmed the formal events were closely following the public health protocols requiring proof of vaccination and masking where necessary," Strang said.

Premier Tim Houston said public health is actively investigating the off-campus events. "If you weren't following the rules, we are going to find you and we are going to fine you," he said.

At the same time, the premier appealed to anyone who hosted an event that didn't follow the rules to "stick your hand up" and co-operate with health officials in order to help rein in potential spread of the virus.

Officials said new cases reported Tuesday included 18 in the Halifax area and four in the province's northern zone, which includes Antigonish.

With 27 recoveries also reported, there are currently 147 active COVID-19 cases in the province. Officials said 11 people are in hospital due to an infection, with four of those patients in intensive care.

They said another cluster of cases remains in an unnamed community in the northern zone, and there is continued evidence of limited community spread in Halifax and parts of northern Nova Scotia.

"However, overall Nova Scotia continues to do well in managing this fourth wave," Strang said.

He also announced that more people would soon be able to get a COVID-19 booster shot.

Although specific dates have yet to be announced, eligibility will be expanded to include those who are 60 and older, and then the program will expand in descending age groups.

The province also plans to allow all front-line health-care workers, including dentists and pharmacists, to schedule a booster dose regardless of the interval between their first two doses.

As well, the minimum interval between first and second doses will be increased from 28 days to eight weeks, but any second dose appointments currently scheduled on a 28-day interval will be honoured.

"Our first priority continues to be vaccinating people who have one dose or no doses of vaccine," Strang said.

As of Tuesday, 84.9 per cent of the province's population had received at least one dose of vaccine, while 81.7 per cent were fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Houston also said the Christmas school break will be extended by two days to allow more time for children to be vaccinated. Students will now return to classes on Jan. 6.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2021.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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