HALIFAX — Nova Scotia is keeping schools closed an additional week and reducing isolation requirements for fully vaccinated people who test positive for COVID-19.
Schools will stay shut until Jan. 17, though online learning will start next Monday, Premier Tim Houston announced Wednesday. He said 71 schools with poor air circulation systems would be sent ventilation units and that three-ply masks would be ordered for teachers and students.
More testing kits would be also ordered, Houston said, adding that he was hopeful they would arrive by the time children are back inside classrooms.
"There will be COVID in schools," Houston told a news conference, but he said it's important for children to return to in-person classes. Schools are an important source of social interaction for children, he said, adding that they also provide food and warmth for some children who may not have that at home.
"The brutal reality in this province is that for some kids, school is the place where they are safest. It's sad but it's true."
The Canadian Union of Public Employees issued a news release Wednesday calling for more safety measures in child-care centres. The union said child-care facilities should be equipped with N95 respirators and rapid testing kids and that capacity limits should be reduced in classrooms.
Meanwhile, public health reported 842 new infections Wednesday and said there were 45 people in hospital with the disease, including eight in intensive care. The average hospital stay for COVID-19 patients was just over five days, the department said, adding that about one-third of COVID-19 patients were unvaccinated.
Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, told reporters Wednesday he couldn't say exactly how many patients had contracted the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus compared with other mutations. He said he also couldn't predict when the current wave of COVID-19 would peak, adding that he was hopeful the province was experiencing the final phase of the pandemic.
Strang said the government was trying to balance the goal of protecting the most vulnerable from severe disease and protecting the health-care system, with its goal of preserving the mental health and well-being of the population.
Starting Friday, fully vaccinated Nova Scotia residents who test positive for COVID-19 or who have symptoms of the disease will be required to isolate for seven days instead of 10, Strang said.
He also said that fully vaccinated people who come into contact with positive cases and who don't have symptoms of the disease would be allowed to avoid isolating, starting Friday. Those people, however, should ask others to do their shopping, he added.
Isolation rules can be reduced, Strang explained, because research indicates the Omicron mutation has a shorter incubation period compared with other strains of the novel coronavirus. "This is another step towards living with COVID-19," Strang said.
Earlier on Wednesday, the province announced a series of new booster vaccination clinics. Officials said new community clinics would start administering booster doses Thursday and that some testing centres would start offering booster doses on Monday. The new clinics are in Halifax, Dartmouth, Wolfville and Truro.
Officials said booster doses are open to residents aged 30 or older. They are also open to residents 18 or older if they are African Nova Scotian or Indigenous.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2022.
Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press