N.S. delays school reopening to Jan. 10 as province reports 561 new COVID-19 cases

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Most students in Nova Scotia are now scheduled to return to classes on Jan. 10, later than the previously scheduled return date of Jan. 6. Public health guidance for schools has also changed in the face of the highly contagious Omicron variant.  (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Most students in Nova Scotia are now scheduled to return to classes on Jan. 10, later than the previously scheduled return date of Jan. 6. Public health guidance for schools has also changed in the face of the highly contagious Omicron variant. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Most students in Nova Scotia are now scheduled to return to classes on Jan. 10, a few days later than the previously scheduled return date of Jan. 6.

Education Minister Becky Druhan said Tuesday the extended holiday break will allow families extra time to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and book vaccine appointments.

It will also give schools time to ensure classrooms are safe by removing extra furniture to allow for more space and ensuring staff are up to date on the latest public health protocols.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful, and I understand we are all tired," Druhan said during a briefing Tuesday afternoon.

"Parents, teachers, even students may have concerns about returning to school. Public health has assured us that schools remain safe."

School staff will report for work from Jan. 4 to 7, and learning resource centres will reopen on Jan. 4, except at Chignecto-Central Regional Centre for Education, where it will open on Jan. 5.

Nova Scotia has been gripped by a spike in new COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks, with a high of 689 new cases reported on Dec. 23.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press
Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

The Correctional Service of Canada has also reported that eight inmates have tested positive at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro, N.S.

In a release, they said testing will increase and all employees will be required to show proof of a negative rapid test before entering the facility.

"In-person visits are temporarily suspended at Nova Institution for Women. During this time, options are available to inmates to connect with their family and support networks," according to the the release.

'We are not going to stop the spread'

At the briefing, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang said he hopes Nova Scotia has reached the peak of the Omicron wave, but noted that the province has not yet seen a real decline in cases.

"We are not going to stop the spread of this variant like we did in other waves," he said. "Our goal now is to slow it down to protect our most vulnerable."

Hospitalizations have increased moderately, Strang said, and the number of health-care staff off work because of testing positive or being a close contact "is a substantive issue" that is "creating pressures. There's no doubt about that."

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press
Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

He said there is often a two- to three-week lag between a spike in cases and hospitalizations.

Nova Scotia reported 561 cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.

Of the new cases, 430 cases are in central zone, 54 cases in eastern zone, 39 cases in northern zone and 38 cases in western zone.

As of Friday, there are 15 people in hospital, including four in intensive care. The province hasn't updated that number this week.

Public health measures in schools

As a result of the spike in COVID-19 cases and changes in Public Health's contact tracing protocols, contact tracing for school cases will no longer take place. Students who are sick or close contacts of a known case must stay home and follow public health guidance.

Strang said testing is now focused on those at highest risk of severe disease and hospitalization.

"We're extending this method to schools as COVID-19 is generally a mild disease for children."

He said that so far, there have been no cases of children hospitalized with COVID-19 in the province.

Nova Scotia: Daily new COVID-19 cases

When classes resume, no non-essential visitors will be permitted in schools, there will be no large assemblies or events and strict cohorting will be implemented.

All staff and students will be given a three-ply cloth mask, and all students will be advised to wear them or an equivalent. Masks must be worn at all times indoors except while eating or drinking.

The province plans to distribute more rapid tests to students, based on supply availability from the federal government. More information will be provided to families the week of Jan. 4.

Strang said vaccinating children and anyone who is eligible for a booster is an important protection for kids, adding that about 40 per cent of eligible five- to 11-year-olds in the province have not yet started their primary series of vaccines.

Parents still have concerns

Stacey Rudderham, an administrator of the group Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education, said the organization agrees the best thing for students is in-person learning, but there are still concerns around ventilation, vaccinations and exposure notices.

"It's concerning that we're still sort of going with this narrative that kids aren't as impacted by COVID as others because that doesn't seem to be the case anymore," she said in an interview with CBC.

She said boosters are isolated to age groups right now, and some teachers haven't been able to get them.

Rudderham said ultimately parents want to be informed, and it's important to know that teachers are able to be in class, and that there aren't shortages that force substitutes to come "in and out of the classroom."

"Consistency is important."

During Tuesday's briefing, Strang responded to a question about ventilation in schools by saying it is only one part of a multi-layered response to COVID-19 and they've done what they can to update ventilation.

In a statement released Tuesday by the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU), president Paul Wozney expressed concerns that mirrored the Rudderham's around "operational viability and safety."

"We agree with Minister Druhan and Dr. Strang that the best place for kids is in the classroom, but remote learning that also provides a critical circuit break to community spread is preferable to rolling school closures and lengthy shutdowns and disruptions due to illness and isolation," Wozney said in the statement.

He said the NSTU will continue monitoring the situation with Education and Early Childhood Development to keep students, faculty and their families safe.

Some hospitals restricting access

Three Nova Scotia hospitals have implemented visitor restrictions to help control the spread of COVID-19.

The restrictions at Glace Bay Hospital and Inverness Consolidated Memorial Hospital began on Dec. 27 and will continue until Jan. 3, 2022. The restrictions at Guysborough Memorial Hospital begin Dec. 28 and continue until Jan. 4.

In Glace Bay and Guysborough, in-patients will only be permitted one consistent visitor. One designated support person per day continues for:

  • Palliative care and other patients nearing end of life.

  • Patients receiving medical assistance in dying.

  • Outpatients, including patients arriving at the hospital for ambulatory care clinics, appointments or procedures who need support to receive care because of physical, intellectual, cognitive and emotional conditions.

  • Patients requiring support for critical treatment decisions such as organ transplantation, initiation of hemodialysis at the discretion of the clinical team.

At Inverness Consolidated Memorial Hospital, in-patients are not allowed to receive visitors, except one designated support person per day for:

  • Palliative care and other patients nearing end of life.

  • Patients receiving medical assistance in dying.

  • Outpatients, including patients arriving at the hospital for emergency and ambulatory care clinics, appointments or procedures who need support to receive care because of physical, intellectual, cognitive and emotional conditions.

  • Children under 18 seeking treatment and/or admitted to hospital.

  • Patients requiring support for critical treatment decisions such as organ transplantation, initiation of hemodialysis at the discretion of the clinical team.

Small outbreaks have been reported recently at hospitals in the province, including the Halifax Infirmary, Dartmouth General Hospital and St. Martha's Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S.

Also on Tuesday, the province announced the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre in Amherst will close the women and children's unit overnight on Dec. 28 and 29.

Atlantic Canada case numbers

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