HALIFAX — A sustained drop in active COVID-19 infections across Nova Scotia has led health officials to reopen schools in the Halifax and Sydney, N.S., areas this week and loosen travel restrictions.
The Halifax and Sydney regions were left out of the province's reopening plan announced last week regarding schools and regional travel.
Premier Iain Rankin, however, said Monday the COVID-19 situation is under enough control that schools in those two areas can reopen Thursday. Schools elsewhere in the province are scheduled to reopen Wednesday as part of the first phase of the government's five-step reopening plan.
"Public health has confirmed that our epidemiology clarifies that schools in Sydney and Halifax are safe to open this week," Rankin told reporters. "The best place for kids is learning in the classroom with their friends and their teachers."
Rankin on Monday reported 17 new COVID-19 cases — all in the Halifax area. The premier said no infections were reported in the Sydney area, adding that more than 8,000 rapid tests conducted over the weekend in the Halifax region turned up three positive results.
With vaccination rates accelerating, Rankin said health officials are also comfortable allowing in-province travel to resume on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union issued a news release Monday expressing concern over a lack of consultation about the reopening of the province's schools. Union president Paul Wozney said the province should evaluate the factors that caused "so many students, teachers and families to fall ill just weeks ago."
"Teachers are feeling disrespected once again and are left with many unanswered questions," he said.
But the province's chief medical officer of health said he is "extremely comfortable" with the decision to reopen schools. Dr. Robert Strang told reporters the majority of students and teachers who tested positive during the latest outbreak were exposed to the novel coronavirus outside school settings.
"Our schools are as safe right now as they have been through most of the past year," he said.
The number of active reported cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia has been on a downward trend for the past two weeks.
Over the Victoria Day long weekend, Nova Scotia's active case count dropped below 1,000 for the first time since May 3. The province has 448 active reported infections and 40 people in hospital with the disease, including 16 in intensive care.
"Overall, we are trending in the right direction," Strang said. "Cases and hospitalizations are declining, testing is steady and our vaccine coverage is rapidly increasing."
As of Sunday, 583,873 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered, with 43,463 people having received a booster shot.
Appointments for vaccinations are now open to everyone 12 years of age and older, and to date, about 51 per cent of the province's population has received at least one shot.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2021.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press