HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's government is predicting the number of COVID-19 cases could still be comfortably managed by the province's hospital system by the end of June if the public keeps following social distancing guidelines.
Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, released a short-term model Tuesday that projects a scenario of 1,453 people testing positive for the virus by June 30 if there is "good compliance" with public health rules.
In this optimistic scenario, hospitalizations would peak at about 35 in May, with about one third in intensive care. That's well within the province's critical care capacity.
The Nova Scotia Health Authority is currently estimating its hospitals could handle about 120 intensive care cases, with appropriate staff and equipment, and could surge to up to 200 beds.
The provincial epidemiology model predicts if there is poor public compliance, there could be 85 people hospitalized in two-and-a-half months, with about one third in intensive care units.
In this pessimistic model, over 6,200 people would test positive by June 30
Strang also announced that there appears to be a worrying outbreak in several communities in the eastern suburbs of Halifax, alongside a rising number of cases in long-term care homes.
Premier Stephen McNeil said during a daily briefing the pessimistic scenario has been the one that frightens him, because once infection levels grow that high the health system could be severely strained for months.
"This is the one that keeps me up. This is the one that scares me. And it should scare you. We need to make sure that we follow public health advice," said the premier.
"If we don't comply, not only do we spike (in COVID-19 infection levels), but the curve doesn't drop for a very, very long time."
The province is currently keeping about half of its intensive care beds open for COVID-19 patients — a figure that may not be sustainable as cancelled or delayed surgeries gradually come back on stream through the summer.
The Nova Scotia model provides little detail about the longer term course of the disease, or what the possible death rates would be.
It's also unclear whether public health officials anticipate rebounds after an initial peak of positive cases in late June.
Strang said death rates are difficult to predict because there are a number of variations that are difficult to determine, such as how many cases occur in nursing homes or among other vulnerable populations.
Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan have released projections of potential deaths.
The model states that the current 517 cases in the province would be close to double that level — 943 cases — if physical distancing measures hadn't been in place.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2020.
Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press