COVID-19: Students up to Grade 8 to wear masks in N.B. back-to-school plan

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New Brunswick has announced its back-to-school plan. It’s a large-scale picture of how the school system will work as the fourth wave of COVID-19 spreads across Canada – and children under the age of 12 still do not have access to a vaccine. Nathalie Sturgeon has the story – Aug 20, 2021

New Brunswick Education Minister Dominic Cardy alongside Regional Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Cristin Muecke, announced on Friday that students from kindergarten to Grade 8 will be subject to COVID-19 protocols include wearing masks in indoor common areas.

Cardy announced that class sizes would return to normal and high school students would return to full-time, in-person learning.

Other measures for those students returning to call this fall will include reducing congestion in hallways; conducting virtual assemblies or concerts; limiting visitors and community use of schools; encouraging outdoor activities when weather permits; and students regularly disinfecting their desks, Cardy announced a press briefing.

High school students are expected to return full-time, according to a release, after doing a mixture of in-person, and at-home learning in 2020-21.

Fifty schools were impacted by COVID-19 during the 2019-2020 school year. Only 28 days of education were lost due to the virus.

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Read more: New Brunswick parents worry as back-to-school plan remains unknown

As employees of the provincial government, school and district staff will be required to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing. Vaccination for students 12 and older is strongly encouraged. Students of all ages are required to wear a mask on the school bus, in addition to the other masking requirements.

Cardy added he thinks all students, including below 12 when a vaccine becomes available, should be required to be vaccinated. He said the department has not ruled out regular testing for students who choose not to be vaccinated.

“Our goal has gone from having a school year that is as normal as possible to one that has some measures in place. Keep susceptible students and school personnel safe — especially those who can’t be vaccinated for a variety of reasons,” he said at a briefing on the plan Friday.

Read more: N.B. premier mandates vaccines for public sector employees

Students who are immunocompromised or have a medical condition which prevents them from being vaccinated will get assistance from the education department – but families without conditions will not.

“If a family choose to take their student out of the public school system because they’re concerned for whatever reason, but they don’t have a medical reason, they’ll be making a choice to home school their children,” he said.

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“I’m not going to comment on that, they are making that choice, they will not be provided with any resources from the department of education.”

Confident with the plan against Delta

Dr. Cristin Muecke, the regional chief medical officer of health, said while the plan needs to time bake, they must prepare for anything.

“I think that’s one of the areas that New Brunswick has excelled at, is being able to react quickly, being able to track what’s going on, see what’s happening in other jurisdictions and adjust accordingly,” she said.

“I fully appreciate why that is stressful and anxiety-provoking for many people — and I just wanted to thank all New Brunswickers for being will to collaborate with us on that.”

Just one confirmed case of the virus triggers a risk assessment. Students will be transitioned to at-home learning to allow Public Health more time to contact trace and perform the assessment.

Read more: District concerned with overcrowding at Moncton High School

For Cardy, the plan was unveiled just before school because of moving pieces. He said he wanted to ensure he had the first line of defense — stating that all provincial staff be vaccinated.

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“When we saw new information, we took the time to get the plan right,” he said.

The plan also noted the ongoing working group to support proper ventilation in schools. Many New Brunswick schools do not have proper ventilation and require upgrades.

Despite that, fans will not be allowed in schools this year. When the humidex value hits 36 degrees, students will be learning from home. Teachers and staff can use fans if they are in the office or classroom alone.

Restrictions will only lift, by region, when 90 per cent of students aged 12-19 are 90 per cent fully vaccinated.



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