Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health is defending the decision to keep schools open where COVID-19 cases have been found, and is urging parents to continue sending their children to class.
Dr. Robert Strang's comments Wednesday came as the teachers' union and some parents have called for schools with cases to be temporarily closed so they can be thoroughly cleaned and allow time for contract tracing.
Strang said the province's goal is to keep students learning in the classroom when possible.
"We need to balance the rare risk of severe illness in children with their overall well-being, which is impacted by not being in school," he said.
According to Strang, the need for balance is especially important in the case of elementary school students, who have a harder time adapting to online learning and for whom social interaction is very important.
The province has very high vaccinations rates for children over 12, and for most children COVID-19 is a mild illness, Strang said.
Once the virus is present in the community it will also be present in schools, he said, and the province is not at the point where it has to take "extreme measures like closing schools."
No widespread transmission
Strang said there are now 32 schools in the province with COVID cases, and eight of them involve spread to one or two people in the school. He said there were no cases of widespread transmission, either within a classroom or outside one.
The virus can enter schools in multiple ways, Strang said, and spread within a community is the greatest risk to schools.
He urged parents to keep their children away from school if they have even a single COVID-19 symptom. He said parents should do the online assessment or call 811 and, if they have a rapid testing kit provided by the school, use it.
In areas where spread has been identified, Strang said Public Health will support schools and the community with mobile testing and vaccinations. He said Public Health is doing that now in the Fairview-Clayton Park area.
Speaking at a briefing Wednesday, Premier Tim Houston said Strang and his team have not steered the province wrong during the pandemic and he trusted their advice on schools.
"Closing schools is a last resort but if it's deemed necessary by Public Health, of course they'll be closed," Houston said.
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