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'Sea of virus': expert fears COVID numbers heading in 'wrong direction'

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Lisa Barrett says it's just a matter of time before Nova Scotia sees the Omicron BA.2 subvariant since COVID-19 measures have lifted
Man wearing mask - getty images Krisanapong detraphiphat

A Halifax infectious disease specialist fears the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across Nova Scotia are heading in the wrong direction.

"This is a sea of virus, let's be clear," Dalhousie University's Dr. Lisa Barrett said. "And I'm not saying that as a fear tactic — it's not meant to be. It's a fact. It's a sea of virus out there."

According to the province's COVID-19 epidemiologic report, Nova Scotia is seeing a continued increase in positive lab tests and hospitalizations.

The most recent report, released on March 31, shows there were 4,188 positive PCR tests for a one-week period ending on March 30.

That week also saw 53 new hospital admissions and 10 reported deaths related to COVID-19.

 "The numbers are headed in the wrong direction, and people keep saying, 'Expectedly so,'" Dr. Barrett told The Todd Veinotte Show. "It is expectedly so. When you put more people together, even when they're vaccinated, and vaccines work, you're going to see cases go up.

"I know the numbers only come out occasionally now in Nova Scotia, and I know that they're hard to interpret. But please let me assure you, the numbers are real and they're going up."

Dr. Barrett said the per cent of positivity of cases identified in testing is currently high, reaching around 25 and 30 per cent. There were also 51 people hospitalized due to the virus according to the province's last report.

"This is not a lockdown situation," Dr. Barrett said. "But if people thought that living with COVID, if that's the wording they wanted to use, if they thought that meant going back to exactly the way they lived life in 2019 ... then they were silly."

Even though Nova Scotia lifted most COVID-19 restrictions late March, Dr. Barrett said measures such as masking, reducing close contacts and testing are still necessary to curb the rising case numbers.

"We need to keep that in addition to our boosted vaccines for us to be able to keep people from having preventable deaths and preventable hospitalizations all at once," she said. "Because we can't manage it — I can promise you we can't."

If a large number of people get infected with COVID-19, Dr. Barrett said there will be issues with bed capacity and staffing levels to mitigate the situation.

Currently, the Omicron variant has numerous subvariants, including BA.1, BA1.1 and BA.2.

The BA.2 subvariant is the one currently dominant in parts of Europe, the United States and some Canadian provinces. Moreover, it's slightly more transmittable than the other two subvariants.

Dr. Barrett said there haven't been many cases of the BA.2 subvariant in Nova Scotia, but that there's "no reason" to think it won't come to the province.

"A virus that's able to out-compete other viruses because it's more transmittable, of course, will eventually get introduced and spread — it's just a matter of time," she said. "That's not a special, 'Nova Scotians won't get BA.2.' It will come to us."

At the moment, Omicron's BA.2 subvariant is very transmittable — likely more so than the other subvariants. However, it's still causing fewer hospitalizations and deaths compared to the Delta variant.

Vaccines are still effective in preventing hospitalization and death, but Dr. Barrett said booster shots are necessary for protection against the variant.

Moreover, fully-vaccinated people should understand that they could still be infected since the variant is so transmittable.

As of March 30, 87.4 per cent of Nova Scotians had two or more COVID-19 vaccine doses. Those who had one dose made up 4.9 per cent while 7.7 per cent remain unvaccinated.

"There has not been a time in this province when virus has been anywhere near the stratosphere of virus that's present now, and vaccines are what are keeping us afloat right now," Dr. Barrett said. "If we didn't have the vaccination rates that we have, we'd be crushed."



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Chris Stoodley

About the Author: Chris Stoodley

Chris was born and raised in Halifax. After graduating from the journalism program at King's, he started as CityNews Halifax's weekend editor.
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