The holiday break for students in Nova Scotia has been extended in order to allow families to monitor students for COVID-19 symptoms before they return to in-person classes.
Classes will now resume for students on Monday, Jan. 10, while teachers and other school staff will return on Tuesday, Jan. 4.
Nova Scotia’s Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, Becky Druhan, says the extension also allows more time for schools to ensure they have enhanced public health measures in place.
“We know that the best place for students is in school where they have continued access to learning and the supports and services they need for their emotional and mental well-being,” said Druhan.
Druhan says in order to support the safety of staff and students, and to help slow the spread of COVID-19, additional public health measures will be introduced for the return of school.
Those measures include:
- strict cohorting
- no large assemblies, gatherings or events
- no non-essential visitors
- reminding families to keep students home when they’re sick
- proper mask wearing
- continuation of regular hand hygiene and enhanced cleaning
“We will be re-implementing some of the past-practices that have proven to be successful, like limiting movement, reducing numbers in places like cafeterias, and moving access furniture to allow for more spacing in classrooms,” said Druhan.
“We need to balance the risk of spread in schools with the significant harms that come from not being in school and learning at home. Schools will have layers of protection in place that will help minimize spread and keep students and staff safe in school,” said Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health.
The president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, Paul Wozney, says the delayed start to the return to classes also provides some time to look at the case count.
“We couldn’t keep schools open when there were 294 new cases a day before the holiday break. If we’re still at 500 cases a day a week from now, and we’re staring down the barrel of a return to in-person learning, everybody understands we’re not going to be able to keep schools open to in-person learning,” said Wozney. “It’s simply not operationally feasible.”
Wozney adds the union has seen no willingness by the government to disclose the state of ventilation in schools, although Druhan says they continue to be maintained.
“Omicron is the most transmissible variant that we’ve seen yet.It’s transmissible in an aerosol fashion, which means that ventilation has never been a more critical vector of transmission than it is right now,” said Wozney.
The union also has questions about additional layers of protections that were referenced during the news conference on Tuesday without any specific information.
“Contact tracing has been suspended in school settings and a large number of classrooms are without adequate ventilation. Many school staff have reported that more needs to be done to ensure enhanced cleaning occurs on a consistent basis,” wrote Wozney in a statement Tuesday evening.
The NSTU president says they agree with Druhan and Strang’s comments that the best place for kids is in the classroom, however he adds that remote learning, which also provides a critical break to the community spread, is preferable to rolling schools closures and lengthy shutdowns and disruptions due to illness and isolation.
“We will continue to monitor the situation closely and expect to have further discussions with EECD (Education and Early Childhood Development) about how we can keep students, teachers and their families safe from COVID-19,” said Wozney.
THREE-PLYED MASK ADVISED FOR STUDENTS
All students are also being advised to wear a three-ply mask, which were distributed at the start of the school year.
“More three-ply masks have been ordered and all staff and students will each receive an additional three-ply mask,” said Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, during a live COVID-19 news conference on Tuesday. “One and two-ply masks do not offer sufficient protection. Masks will continue to be required at all times indoors, except while eating and drinking.”
TESTING CHANGES FOR STUDENTS
Public health in Nova Scotia recently changed its strategy for testing and case management, better focusing its efforts on those at highest risk of severe disease of hospitalization. Strang says this approach will be extended to schools.
“Public health will no longer contact trace in school settings. Students who are sick or who are close contacts of a known case should stay home and follow public health guidance that is available online,” said Strang.
Individuals not considered high-risk are being asked to test at home and self-manage their case.
Information about testing, self-isolation and case management is available online.
A plan to distribute more rapid tests to students is based on supply availability from the federal government. Schools will share more information with families about enhanced measures the week of Jan. 4.
Source: CTV News