Calls for Nova Scotia schools and universities to close amid COVID-19 concerns

Click to play video: 'Some Nova Scotians saying schools, universities should be closed due to coronavirus'
Some Nova Scotians saying schools, universities should be closed due to coronavirus
WATCH: Schools and universities around the world are shutting down in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. That hasn’t happened here yet but some are saying it should. Alicia Draus has more. – Mar 13, 2020

As schools and businesses across the country clamp down on travel in response to the surging coronavirus outbreak, many are calling on educational institutions in Nova Scotia to do the same.

Dustin Lindensmith, a father of three, was looking forward to a family trip to New York City over the upcoming march break. But due to mounting concerns about COVID-19, he made the difficult decision to cancel the trip, even if it meant losing out on a couple thousand dollars.

“We have a hotel booked in Times Square, we have tickets to a Broadway show, we’re planning to visit museums, we’re planning to be in central Manhattan where a ton of tourists would be,” he said.

“It’s not realistic to consider that we could avoid picking [the virus] up if it’s there.”

He says the decision wasn’t made lightly, and his biggest concern wasn’t about his family getting infected, but rather them contributing to spreading it in Nova Scotia.

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READ MORE: Rapid screening test being developed in Halifax to quickly detect COVID-19

“We’re trying to help the most vulnerable people in our community avoid getting infected and this is the easiest way to do it,” said Lidensmith.

While he feels confident about his decision to cancel the trip and stay home, he’s still concerned that others won’t be doing the same thing, and would like to see action taken at schools to prevent the spread.

“My general concern is that when people go away on vacation next week it’s very likely that they’re unwittingly going to pick up the virus from wherever they’re traveling and bring it back here,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Child who vacationed in Florida among Alberta’s COVID-19 cases'
Child who vacationed in Florida among Alberta’s COVID-19 cases

The concern is shared by the Nova Scotia Teacher’s Union as well. President Paul Wozney says Nova Scotia should take the lead of other provinces and consider cancelling classes or asking students who have traveled to stay home for two weeks after the March break.

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“If you wait until the disease already has a foothold and is already spreading quickly in your population, taking drastic measures at that point — the impact of those measures is diminished,” said Wozney.

Schools in New Brunswick had their March break last week; the government has asked that anyone returning home from international locations after March 8 stay away from schools for 14 days.

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick bans international travellers from schools for two weeks'
New Brunswick bans international travellers from schools for two weeks

On Thursday the government of Ontario decided to extent March break by two weeks due to concerns surrounding COVID-19.

The department of Education in Nova Scotia did not get back to Global News about whether or not they were looking at similar measures, but on Tuesday, Education Minister Zach Churchill told reporters it wasn’t something they were considering. However, he did acknowledge “the situation is fluid and could evolve very quickly,” and that the department is in constant communication with the province’s chief medical officer of health.

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Meanwhile universities across the province are continuing with business as usual, and while not much has changed on campuses, behind the scenes there is lots of planning going on.

“The universities, I can say with great confidence, have all struck committees over the last two weeks to address all of the operating challenges that they potentially face,” said Peter Halpin, president of the Association of Atlantic Universities.

One of those operating challenges is what would happen if campuses are forced to close or switch to online courses, something that has already happened at dozens of colleges in the United States, as well as Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont.

Meanwhile, a petition has been started by university students in Ontario, calling for all schools in Canada to close in an effort to immediately stop COVID-19.

Universities here are not looking at shutting down just yet, but many are looking into the possibility of moving courses online if they need to.

READ MORE: Coronavirus fears prompt Ontario university to move classes online — should others?

Mount Saint Vincent University administrative vice-president Mustansar Nadeem says right now, the risk of that happening is low, especially as the semester draws to an end, but he says they are weighing all options, including how that could impact final exams.

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“There are alternate ways to assess students and the academic team is again working on what that might look like in terms of offering exams online, or offering a different mode of assessment,” said Nadeem.

Regardless of what happens, he said next to the safety of staff and students, their main priority is making sure students are able to complete their terms.

All universities are in constant communication with Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, and are following recommendations of public health officials.

Confused about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is very low for Canadians, but they caution against travel to affected areas (a list can be found here). If you do travel to these places, they recommend you self-monitor to see whether you develop symptoms and if you do, to contact public health authorities.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing – very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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