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N.S. parents compiling own list of COVID-19 school cases

A empty classroom is pictured at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 23, 2020. British Columbia's education minister says he wants to learn from other provinces and countries like New Zealand before starting to reopen schools. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A group of Nova Scotia parents is compiling a list of COVID-19 cases in schools after the province stopped releasing the data publicly.

The group, Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education (NSPFPE), has more than 23,000 members on Facebook. It has been calling on the province to release information on schools with cases, much like it did during the previous school year.

Late Monday afternoon, the province did indeed say it will begin releasing daily data.

“Nova Scotia will begin reporting the number of schools with cases of COVID-19 daily, starting tomorrow, Sept. 28,” the province noted in a news release.

NSPFPE Facebook page administrator Stacey Rudderham, who is also the parent of two school-aged children, said the group was flooded with new members after it began tracking in-school cases — with most parents telling her that they joined to access the list.

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Read more: COVID-19: Nova Scotia parents call for mandatory masks in elementary schools as cases rise

According to Rudderham, at least 24 schools have reported cases since the beginning of the school year, involving at least 43 cases.

“A parent’s heart and soul goes out the door to go to school every day and they have to hope that everything is going well there,” she told Global News earlier Monday.

“We’ve been told to take COVID seriously. We’ve been told to be diligent with COVID efforts for a year and a half. And now all of a sudden, it seems like COVID isn’t a concern anymore, and we’re concerned.”

The concern is especially acute for parents of elementary school children, who aren’t eligible for vaccination until they turn 12.

“I have an 11-year-old son with a neuromuscular disorder who is also somewhat immunocompromised,” member Lorrie Power told the group.

“Having information about cases in schools is a critical piece of information for us to have in order to make the best possible decisions about whether we keep him in class, move him to the resource room full-time as a precaution, or keep him home entirely. Will we feel differently once he is fully vaccinated? You bet. But for now, knowing if cases are starting to pop up around us is crucial.”

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Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Some Nova Scotia parents worry about back-to-school'
COVID-19: Some Nova Scotia parents worry about back-to-school

Rudderham said in-school COVID cases should have been shared the same way public exposure notifications are announced. Especially concerning, she said, is that policy on the information around the cases varies from school to school. In some cases, teachers have told her they weren’t aware there was a case in their workplace.

The NSPFPE list relies on reports from parents, who have received notification from their schools or public health. The group said cases seem to be treated as isolated cases, and yet some schools have reported multiple cases.

“We’ve been getting messages this morning that there are actually multiple cases in the school that haven’t been made public so far — four or five in one classroom and several others throughout the school,” Rudderham said Monday morning.

“And we also heard from a parent this morning that close contact notices that went out were addressed to the wrong families or to the wrong address with the wrong name on them. So we’re not sure if the family who got it was supposed to get it or if the child that was named on the letter was supposed to get the notice. But there’s been some errors being made.”

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Nova Scotia previously reported in-school cases during the last school year, however, the policy changed for the 2021-2022 year. The province said it was moving its focus away from daily case numbers, as vaccination rates increase.

Read more: COVID-19 hospitalizations among Canada’s children remain low despite Delta surge: experts

When releasing the back-to-school plan in August, chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang said that teachers and students have had two difficult years due to COVID-19 but that “this year should be easier.”

“If we keep our community safe, our schools will be safe. We need to balance the risk of COVID 19 with the impact COVID has had on young Nova Scotians,” he said at the time.

Just last week, British Columbia reversed course on notifying parents about COVID-19 exposures at schools after the provincial health officer previously said reporting of single cases caused too much anxiety.

Currently, Nova Scotia remains in Phase 4 of its reopening plan and masks are still required in schools. The province is scheduled to enter Phase 5 on Oct. 4, which would lift most restrictions, but Strang has said he is keeping an eye on Nova Scotia’s epidemiology and expects the mask mandate to remain in place as the fourth wave sweeps across the Maritimes.

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