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Why circuit breakers are key to crushing COVID-19

Whether it’s called a partial lockdown or circuit breaker, it’s one of many measures public health officials in Nova Scotia are using to interrupt the chain of transmission of COVID-19 from one person to another.

“The virus is out there,” explains Dr. Daniela Kempkens, medical officer of health for Nova Scotia Health’s Eastern Zone, “and the more people are going about their business as usual, the more chances the virus has to be transmitted from one person to another.”

Because there were rising rates of community transmission specifically in the Halifax area last month, Dr. Kempkens explains, all non-essential travel in and out of that area is restricted now, with a few exceptions.

“If you have to travel for work or medical appointments that’s OK,” she says, “but it’s not OK to also go stock up at a big-box store. If people are travelling from other areas of Nova Scotia into Halifax and then go back, they can carry the virus back to their own communities and start transmission there.”

Even though travel in Nova Scotia that doesn’t involve the Halifax area isn’t technically restricted at this time, it’s not recommended. This year it’s crucial to stay close to home to make sure the virus can’t travel from one area to another. That means supporting local vendors when holiday shopping, for example, and picking up your tree from a nearby lot.

Recently there have been reports of people harassing those they believe have travelled from outside their community for non-essential reasons. Dr. Kempkens reminds all Nova Scotians to embrace the spirit of the season and be kind and compassionate.

“Give somebody the benefit of the doubt,” she advises. “Keep in mind that someday, you could be in those people’s shoes, where you actually have a valid reason to be somewhere other than your own zone. Imagine what it would be like at the receiving end of that treatment.”

If you are concerned someone may be flaunting current restrictions or recommendations about travel, she recommends saying something in a way that expresses concern for the public or your community. “Try not to make it into an attack or accusation.”

Circuit breakers provide benefits beyond just reducing known case numbers, Dr. Kempkens explains. They can help reduce strain on the public health system. Like we’ve seen in other parts of the country, contact tracing can collapse if there are too many cases, which carries a large risk of the virus spreading further. As well, the more cases we see, the higher the chances are that somebody will become seriously ill and require hospitalization or even intensive care.

“As we know in Nova Scotia, the health-care system is strained every year in a regular flu season and operating near capacity at many other times of year,” Dr. Kempkens says. If the system is overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases and people cannot get a hospital bed, that’s detrimental to the health of those people. It also increases the risk of front-line health-care workers acquiring the virus as they care for more COVID-19 patients. If those workers have to isolate or become ill and cannot work, that too will have a significant impact on our ability to care for Nova Scotians. “We want to avoid that at all costs.”

Circuit breakers are also helpful for protecting the most vulnerable people in the province.

“The more cases we have in the community, the more likely we are to see cases in long-term care again, with potentially large outbreaks with a high number of people dying, or there’s a higher risk of someone bringing it into a correctional facility or into shelters for the homeless. Introducing COVID-19 into all those scenarios carries a very high risk of people dying and getting terribly sick.”

Nova Scotians have a collective responsibility to protect the people around us, she adds. That’s why we all need to follow the restrictions and recommendations put in place during circuit breakers or lockdowns.

“Do your part with the COVID-19 measures,” says Dr. Kempkens. “Protect those people who can’t protect themselves.”