It’s official: staff and students will continue to wear masks when schools open to full, in-class learning September 7.
Nova Scotia Premier-designate Tim Houston and the province’s chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Strang, announced the province’s Back to School Plan August 23.
To start the school year off, masks will be required at all times for anyone inside a school building, or bus, just as the regulations were when school closed for the year in June. Masks can be removed when eating or drinking or participating in physical activity and for breaks where physical distancing is possible.
As the doors open, there will be a full resumption of music classes, band, field trips, sports and audience attendance. Use of cafeterias and lockers will return, while gyms will open for community-use after school hours.
Paul Ash, regional executive director of the South Shore Regional Centre for Education, told LighthouseNOW educators are ready to welcome the students.
“We’re very much looking forward to kids returning this year with the situation where things are looking much more normal,” he said. “We’re going to continue with some core public health measures around the hand washing, sanitizing and the cleaning of high touch surfaces and tracking and monitoring illness with staff and students.”
He added he is “very comfortable with students returning this year. It is a safe place and we have measures, similar to last year, to ensure that continues.”
An anticipated rollover to Phase 5 is expected September 15, based on the expectation that 75 per cent of Nova Scotia residents will be fully vaccinated. As of August 23, about 70 per cent of the province’s residents had received their two shots.
Phase 5 will mean “no restrictions or mandatory public health measures,” said Houston during a media briefing on August 23.
If this phase is introduced as planned it will happen on the Wednesday, September 15. Strang indicated that the wearing of masks in schools may continue until the end of that school week, and the lifting of the mask regulation may take effect on Monday, September 20.
Responding to a question at the media event about why the school year would start off with masking, Strang responded, “The education system is pleased to have at least a couple of weeks of masking because it sets the norm. Even once we remove the mandatory requirements for masking, we encourage and strongly recommend staff and students continue to wear masks,” he explained. “So, starting off the year with the requirement of masking allows the school year to recreate that norm around masking.”
Standard procedures developed over the pandemic, such as hand washing and extensive cleaning, will continue to be encouraged in schools.
The overriding message to staff, educators and students is that “we will do everything to keep you safe and, right now with the plan we have today, we feel that it will keep people safe,” Houston said at the news conference.
According to Strang, a fourth wave is expected to hit Nova Scotia, and it’s just a matter of when. However, he said he was encouraged by the work that Nova Scotians have done to that point and that the province is in a good position.
“It’s time to start living more with COVID-19,” said Strang. “Even if we see rising case numbers that would have previously meant province-wide restrictions, our vaccine coverage means we can carry on with only border restrictions and maybe, if necessary, targeted local restrictions.”
If a COVID-19 case is discovered in a school, family, staff and close contacts will be notified, however it’s expected the schools will remain open and operate as normally as possible. Strang wasn’t anticipating there would be a situation where “it would be justified to have mandatory masking.”
Going to school and being with their peers is important, Strang said.
Houston was asked during the question-and-answer period regarding assurances that proper ventilation is in place, or that windows would be replaced to make sure that they can be opened. Proper ventilation was a topic of concern in 2020.
He responded saying this conversation is ongoing, but in any case he was confident the schools are safely operating in their current condition.
Ash supported that view. “We, as part of our regular ventilation checks, have reviewed all of the ventilation systems in our schools and any issues that needed to be rectified have been addressed,” he said.
Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin