P.E.I. is reimposing mask requirements in indoor public spaces following a recent COVID-19 outbreak at a Charlottetown school.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said at a briefing Wednesday the mandate comes into effect at 8 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 17.
The mask mandate will target retail businesses, salons, taxis and public transit, places of worship as well as workplaces open to the public.
Personal gatherings will also be now restricted to 20 people, down from 50.
"What's happened here in the last few days is a stark reminder that COVID and the fourth wave and the delta variant can impact us here in this province," Morrison said. "It reminds us about the measures that even we had in place, how important they are to follow."
"The measures that are already in place and the ones that we're adding are all important."
Premier Dennis King said at the briefing that the province will be returning to a heightened level of vigilance due to this week's developments.
"I don't know if that has dissipated over the summer or because we've done better in this jurisdiction than others, but I think maybe we got a little bit more comfortable with where we were in this province as compared to what was going on in the rest of the country, which is normal," he said.
"The news of the weekend, I think, sort of snapped us back into that heightened level of concern where we were."
In-person learning to resume
The province also said Island schools will be returning to in-person learning Thursday, except for West Royalty Elementary, which has been at the centre of the outbreak.
All schools will be under enhanced restrictions. Masking will now be required at all times for Grades 4 to 12 except when eating, drinking or during physical activity. Teachers will be allowed to remove masks when teaching if they're fully vaccinated.
Cohorting will be required in K-6 classrooms. Enhanced cleaning and physical distancing measures will also be in place.
The suspension of extra-curricular activities in the Charlottetown area will be lifted Wednesday at midnight.
"I hope some of what we're doing and continue to do will limit the number of cases," Morrison said. "But I think it takes all of us in the community to be part of that.
"We know that COVID in schools doesn't get there unless there's usually someone else who has had COVID."
Classes at West Royalty won't return to in-person classes until Sept. 20.
5 new cases reported
Morrison also reported five new COVID-19 cases at the briefing, four of them in relation to previously announced cases at West Royalty.
Three of the cases are individuals between the ages of 10 and 19, one is in their 20s and another in their 40s.
There have been 12 cases associated with the West Royalty outbreak since the weekend.
Over 400 people have been identified as close contacts. Depending on their vaccination status, they may be legally required to self-isolate.
The province also announced that children aged 8 to 12 will now be tested at the point of entrance when coming into province. All children under 12 will also have to be tested before going back to school, as well as undergo follow-up testing.
King also said the province is working hard to implement a vaccine passport system.
Morrison said no link between the outbreak and travel outside Atlantic Canada has been established, adding that she expects more cases to be announced in the coming days.
Active case count second-highest recorded
About 3,500 people have been tested for COVID-19 over the past five days, with more than 1,700 of those tested under the age of 19.
The remaining case announced Monday was related to travel outside Atlantic Canada.
P.E.I.'s active COVID-19 case count is at 27, the second-highest total that's been recorded on the Island since the pandemic began. The highest was 28 in mid-March of this year.
There have been 260 cases since the pandemic began.