HALIFAX — University and college students entering Nova Scotia from outside Atlantic Canada will be required to undergo testing for COVID-19 in addition to self-isolating for 14 days.
Premier Stephen McNeil announced the new measure Thursday as his province reported one new case of the virus, bringing the total number of active cases to six.
Effective immediately, McNeil said, post-secondary students will be tested three times over the course of their isolation period.
"This will help track the virus," McNeil told reporters. "If students are asymptomatic these tests should help us detect COVID. This will also enable institutions and public health to respond quickly if the virus is found."
Under the new rules students already inside Atlantic Canada will only need to self-isolate if they have travelled outside the region in the past 14 days.
Students will have to complete their self-isolation even if they have negative test results. They won't be able to attend in-person classes until their isolation period is completed — and until after they test negative.
Universities and the Nova Scotia Community College are in the process of contacting students to inform them of the new requirements including the process for getting tested. The premier said there would be testing facilities on campuses.
McNeil also said the province is using a new process to better track people who enter the province from outside the so-called "Atlantic bubble." Created in July, the Atlantic bubble allows Atlantic Canadians to travel within the region without having to self-isolate when they cross provincial borders.
He said a new digital check-in would soon replace follow-up phone calls to ensure people are self-isolating.
"This is an important moment in our province," McNeil said. "We have to be realistic, COVID is not going away. But our hope is that our isolation plan and our testing strategy will prevent a major spike in cases."
As for when Nova Scotia might open up to the rest of Canada, McNeil remained non-committal Thursday, saying the next few weeks with the return of students to public schools and universities will be critical.
"We want to monitor that to see how it goes, but at some point we are going to have to open up our province for the health of our economy to the rest of Canada," said McNeil.
Ideally, he said such a move would be done with the other Atlantic provinces, but McNeil reiterated that if that's not possible, Nova Scotia would "potentially go it alone" after assessing its own situation. "Public Health will continue to guide us, but when they are comfortable with what they are seeing then we will (open)."
Meanwhile, health officials said the province's new COVID-19 case was identified Wednesday in the central health zone. No other details about the case were released.
Public Health warned Thursday of potential exposures to the novel coronavirus in Truro, N.S.
The first was at Murphy's Fish and Chips at 88 Esplanade Street on Aug. 9 between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., and the second was at 102 Colchester Wing Royal Canadian Air Force Association at 22 Cottage Street on Aug. 15 between 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
People who were present at the locations on those dates are being asked to self-monitor for symptoms.
There have been 1,077 positive COVID-19 cases and 64 deaths in Nova Scotia since the pandemic began. Officials say 1,007 cases are now resolved. One person is currently in hospital being treated for the disease.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 20, 2020.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press