The first death in Nova Scotia from COVID-19 is believed to have occurred at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital.
Health officials confirmed that a woman in her 70s with underlying health issues succumbed to the illness in the eastern zone, but would not provide additional details, including not confirming whether the woman was a resident of a long-term care home.
“It’s unfortunate that this death has happened but we do know the sad reality of COVID-19 is that people die from this disease,” said chief medical officer Robert Strang. “It’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
In his daily remarks, Premier Stephen McNeil sent condolences to the family of the woman who died.
Dr. Margaret Fraser, president of the Cape Breton Medical Staff Association, confirmed that the fourth floor of the regional hospital is the location of the COVID-19 unit for the eastern zone.
“If there was a death in the regional hospital, that’s where it would have occurred,” she said.
She said doctors locally aren’t being told the number of cases, that they are also only receiving the information by region.
“I know we have had a number of hospitalizations here, but I don’t know exactly how many,” she said.
Beginning Tuesday, everyone at the regional hospital was to wear masks at all times, Fraser said, from doctors to cleaners. They were all issued two masks daily, with more available if necessary. She said they were allowed to remove them to eat or do paperwork, if necessary.
Fraser was not aware of any reports that the patient initially tested negative for the virus and was placed on the third floor of the hospital.
As a physician, Fraser said they are being given “very sparing” information.
“We know there are cases and we know we have to take precautions, that’s what we need to know as physicians, we don’t need to know who they are or where they are,” she said. “We’ve known for weeks that there would be COVID-19 in the area because we do have people who travel.”
She noted her own father is currently in Toronto visiting her brother and won’t be able to return home until the end of the pandemic.
People are generally quite worried about the illness, Fraser said, noting Cape Breton has a generally older and more vulnerable population.
Her own medical practice has moved to primarily telephone visits, for which most patients have been grateful they don’t have to leave their homes.
Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke began a Tuesday morning video briefing and update by expressing his sadness over the death.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the person’s family,” said Clarke.
“This is all the more reason for us to be mindful — it just brings home the importance right now of all the measures that the province and the federal government have put in place and why we have to adhere to the chief medical officer of health’s call and directive to us to self-isolate, to socially distance and be mindful of hygiene and personal conduct.”
Clarke also said he’s cognizant of the fact that CBRM residents are generally complying with public health regulations.
“What I have seen and witnessed is an overwhelming response by many responsible citizens, but at this time we further implore them, knowing that the COVID-19 coronavirus is in our community, to limit community spread and we want to flatten the curve,” he said.
“We are not immune or isolated from this global pandemic so we need to be mindful of that and to protect ourselves and our fellow citizens.”
As of Tuesday, the province had 310 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Seventeen new cases were identified Monday.
The QEII Health Sciences Centre's microbiology lab completed more than 530 Nova Scotia tests on Monday and is operating around-the-clock.
While most cases in Nova Scotia have been connected to travel or a known case, there is now community spread.
Eleven patients are currently in hospital. Sixty-six individuals have now recovered.
There are two mobile assessment centres being established by the Nova Scotia Health Authority to do community-based testing. Emergency Health Services operates two field assessment units: one in the Halifax Regional Municipality and one in the CBRM.
(with files from David Jala)