HALIFAX — Students in Nova Scotia are getting an extra week for their winter break as a part of a provincial school COVID-19 reopening plan.
Officials have announced a Jan. 10 return date for students to allow families time to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and book vaccination appointments. Teachers and other school staff will return to schools on Jan. 4 to prepare for students' return to the classroom.
Education Minister Becky Druhan told reporters Tuesday the province would bring back older strategies to keep students safe, including limiting movement within schools and placing capacity limits on certain areas, like cafeterias.
"Public Health has assured us that schools remain safe," she said. "They remain a safe environment for students and for staff."
Chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang said balance is a key part of the province's back-to-school plan.
"One of our key priorities has always been to keep children in school whenever possible," he said. "The concerns about controlling the spread of what is generally a relatively mild disease in children need to be weighed against the clear harms and risks associated with children not being in school and learning at home."
The news came as health officials in Nova Scotia reported 561 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday.
Officials said in a news release that 430 of the new infections are in the central zone of the province, which includes Halifax.
They also said 54 cases were identified in the eastern zone, 39 in the northern zone and 38 in the western zone.
Strang said he's hopeful the province is nearing the peak of this most recent outbreak, with cases remaining relatively steady, though there is no sign yet of decline.
He also urged residents to refrain from hoarding rapid COVID-19 tests as the province further changes its testing strategy.
"What we cannot continue to do is have wide-scale asymptomatic testing. We need to use our supply of rapid test kits differently in this wave," Strang said, adding that the province has a health supply of rapid tests on standby.
Health experts have said COVID-19 infections are likely to be much higher than reported, as a number of hospitals and centres have reached their testing limits.
Meanwhile, officials reported one new case in an outbreak at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax. There are now six patients at the hospital’s Halifax Infirmary site who tested positive for the disease.
Correctional Service Canada said eight inmates at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro, N.S., have tested positive for COVID-19.
The number of active cases may change as more tests are conducted and laboratory-confirmed results are available, it said in a release.
Several steps are being taken to contain the spread of the virus, it said, which include COVID-19 tests being offered "broadly" to inmates and staff, and rapid tests for employees.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 28, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
The Canadian Press