Education and Early Childhood Learning Minister Dominic Cardy announced more onerous school COVID-19 restrictions Friday, including new rules for students 12 and older who are not fully vaccinated.
As the coronavirus spread grows throughout the province, the number of new cases confirmed at New Brunswick schools increases.
"Since the beginning of this school year, 20 schools across health zones 1, 3, 4 and 5 have been affected by about 80 confirmed cases of COVID-19. By comparison, the 2020-21 school year had about 100 cases across 50 schools, in every health zone," Public Health stated in its Friday update.
In response to the surge in cases, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Learning announced in Friday's COVID update that it would adjust its Healthy and Safe Schools guidelines effective Monday.
New Brunswick students began the new school year under guidelines issued by the department, including the use of masks in common indoor areas and on buses. It already tightened some regulations, as Public Health confirmed several cases in schools across the province.
On Friday, the department announced even more stringent measures to take effect Monday, Sept. 20, including the following:
The province also announced additional measures aimed directly at students 12 and older who are not fully vaccinated. Those rules will take effect Wednesday, Sept. 22, coinciding with the government's plans to require proof of vaccination for all people attending sporting and entertainment events, bars, restaurants and other non-essential public places.
In the Sept. 17 COVID update, the province announced students 12 and older cannot participate in extracurricular or intramural sports without verification they're fully vaccinated or have proof of a medical exemption.
Current Department of Education restrictions limit the use of school facilities to youth activities. New rules will prohibit under-vaccinated students 12 and older from participating in those activities.
The department also asked for the support of families as the school districts attempt to improve physical distancing on buses. They asked that parents, if able, drive their children to school.
"The growing number of cases of COVID-19 in communities is having a significant impact on public school operations," said Cardy. "We have a duty to protect our students, especially those under 12 who are not yet eligible to receive protection through COVID-19 vaccines."
Cardy said his department would work closely with Public Health to update the guidelines to ensure the schools stay open, healthy and safe.
"But we will need the help of families, communities and businesses to help protect our school communities," he said.
New Brunswick's Public Health daily COVID-19 update continued to report new infections at schools across the province.
Friday's update confirmed new cases in Zones 1, 3 and 5 — the three zones hit hardest since returning to school after Labour Day.
Zone 3, Fredericton and Upper River Valley, confirmed new cases in already hard-hit Perth-Andover. Public Health identified new cases at Andover Elementary School, Perth-Andover Middle School, and Southern Victoria High School,
Zone 1, the Moncton region, reported a new case at West Riverview High School, while Zone 5, the Campbellton region, confirmed a new infection at Sugarloaf Senior High School.
Zone 5 schools have been the province's hardest-hit region since schools opened, with about a dozen schools identifying at least one infection.
Under the Healthy and Safe School guidelines, schools with a confirmed COVID-19 infection to a student or staff member would immediately close for at least a single day. School officials will advise parents and guardians of all students about the exposure. At the same time, Public Health contact tracers would notify families where they believe a family member may have been in contact with the virus.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun