COVID-19: All N.S. students now returning to classroom this week as case count drops

Click to play video: 'All Nova Scotia students return to in-person learning this week'
All Nova Scotia students return to in-person learning this week
WATCH: In-person classes will resume for all students in Nova Scotia this week. The province has ruled that community spread of COVID-19 in the Halifax and Sydney areas is now under control, making schools safe for students. Jesse Thomas has more – May 31, 2021

All Nova Scotia students are heading back to in-person learning this week, Premier Iain Rankin announced Monday as the province reported the lowest number of new cases in more than a month.

Students have been learning from home for the past month as the province struggled to get the third wave of COVID-19 under control.

While the premier has previously said students won’t return to school this year, Rankin said during Monday’s briefing that he’s encouraged by the relatively low case numbers announced in recent days.

“Public Health has confirmed that schools in Sydney in HRM are safe to open this week,” said Rankin, who thanked teachers, parents, school staff and students for their work over the last month.

“This week will be exciting for all of you to reunite with your friends and to your teachers in person,” he told students. “Please remember to follow the public health protocols and put safety first.”

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Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia releases its five-phased approach to reopening province'
Nova Scotia releases its five-phased approach to reopening province

Rankin said the province is working on a testing strategy for schools.

The province already announced last week that students from outside Halifax Regional Municipality and Sydney could return to school on June 2. Now, as cases drop in those areas, HRM and Sydney students can go back to the classroom on June 3.

Following that announcement, Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE) sent a letter to parents to advise that there will be no at-home learning classes for students on Tuesday and Wednesday, to allow time for teachers and school staff to prepare for in-person teaching on Thursday. School buses and EXCEL Before and After School recreation programs will resume on Thursday as well.

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Students with complex needs who were scheduled to return to school on Wednesday will still do so.

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Rankin also said that starting Tuesday, people can once again begin travelling throughout the province.

“That does mean you can go see loved ones and friends, but please stay outside right now,” he said. “It is important that we take this cautious approach and limit socialization as we slowly open up.”

17 new cases

There are 17 new cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia Monday, all of which are in the central health zone. Nova Scotia Health labs completed 3,781 tests on Sunday.

Another 74 people have recovered, leaving an active case count of 448. The number of people in hospital has dropped slightly to 40, with 16 people in intensive care.

In a release, the province said there is “limited” community spread in the central zone, while the other three health zones are being closely monitored. There was previously community spread in the eastern zone, specifically the Sydney area.

On Friday, the province announced its phased plan to reopen the province as more Nova Scotians get vaccinated. More restrictions will be lifted with each new phase, which will last two to four weeks each.

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During Monday’s briefing, Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, acknowledged “mixed reviews” of the plan. He said he has received some questions about it, including why the province is opening so slowly even though more people are being vaccinated.

In response, he referenced the fact that five Nova Scotians died of COVID-19 over the weekend.

“Sadly, the deaths reported over the weekend are a stark reminder of how important it is to go slowly,” he said.

“The virus is still here, and while 51 per cent of Nova Scotians have one dose … that is not enough protection to completely relax the restrictions and the public health measures that have kept us safe for the last 15 months.”

About 51 per cent of Nova Scotians have had their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, said Strang.

Teachers feeling ‘disrespected’: union

In a release issued Monday afternoon, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union called for the province to allow for a “full and transparent review” of school-related COVID-19 cases.

It noted that more than 800 children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the third wave.

“I’m aware of teachers, students and staff who caught COVID-19 at school and brought it home to their families. There are also media reports describing the same,” said union president Paul Wozney in the release.

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“These people endured trauma at the time and many still haven’t recovered physically or emotionally from the experience.”

The release said that while case numbers are declining, teachers have not been fully vaccinated and many of their students have either not received, or are not yet eligible, for the vaccine.

Wozney said the province should have “properly evaluated” the previous school cases before making the “political decision” to reopen schools.

“A lot of people were exposed to COVID-19 inside schools in late April at a time when the government was making daily announcements aimed at reassuring families that schools were safe,” he said.

“The hundreds of people who got sick, and the thousands of families that were forced into quarantine deserve transparency and accountability before they are forced to revisit the experience again.”

The union also said it was not adequately consulted ahead of the initial announcement on Friday that some schools would reopen.

“Teachers are feeling disrespected once again and are left with many unanswered questions,” the release said. “The consequence is that they are unsure if more changes will be announced suddenly, and how best to prepare for their student’s learning.”

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Click to play video: 'Local businesses react to Nova Scotia’s reopening plan'
Local businesses react to Nova Scotia’s reopening plan

During the briefing, Strang said the school cases came within the context of widespread community transmission, and noted that very little COVID-19 transmission was actually happening within schools.

“Now we’re back to a place where we have little to no community transmission, even in HRM, and none elsewhere,” he said. “Our schools remain extremely safe.”

Rankin also said that the province makes announcements to everyone at the same time.

“Obviously, if we tell people in advance, then the decision’s made at that point,” he said, adding that teachers and schools still have a few days to prepare.

“I don’t want to discount the importance of having students in school. It’s clearly safe to have kids in school right now, and that’s where they should be.”


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