COVID-19: N.S. delays reopening of schools for in-person learning by another week

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia moves to online learning for the first week of school'
Nova Scotia moves to online learning for the first week of school
WATCH: Nova Scotia has changed course to align with other Canadian provinces and move to online learning for the start of 2022. Premier Tim Houston said the one-week virtual move is to increase public confidence in the province’s message that schools are safe despite high COVID-19 numbers. Isolation changes are also in effect for fully vaccinated Nova Scotians. Alexa MacLean has the details. – Jan 5, 2022

Nova Scotia is reversing course and has announced that students will indeed be returning to remote learning when school resumes next week.

Online learning will begin on Monday and is scheduled to last for one week. Students are now set to return to the classroom on Jan. 17.

Up until now, Nova Scotia had been the only Atlantic Canadian province scheduled to have students back for in-school learning after winter break.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Nova Scotia delays reopening of schools for in-person learning to Jan. 17'
COVID-19: Nova Scotia delays reopening of schools for in-person learning to Jan. 17

During a COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday, Premier Tim Houston said the province will take the extra week to address issues of ventilation in schools, supplying three-ply masks to students, strengthening testing, and working out details on how notifications will work when there’s an illness within a school.

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“This one-week delay was an extremely difficult decision. The best place for our children is in school. We’ve been here before, and our own history in Nova Scotia with COVID shows that our schools are safe,” Houston said.

“That said, we believe that with this one week, government can take steps to increase public confidence even further.”

He added that the “brutal reality” in the province is that for some kids, school is the safest place to be.

Houston warned people to take precautions and assured Nova Scotians would be safe in terms of COVID-19.

“There will be COVID in schools. Everyone should take precautions knowing there is lots of COVID in the province,” he said.

“Teachers and staff, you will be safe at work. Parents, your children will be safe at school.”

Click to play video: 'NSTU President Hopes NS Changes Its Decision On Resuming In-class Learning'
NSTU President Hopes NS Changes Its Decision On Resuming In-class Learning

There had been growing calls in recent days from the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and parents to begin the new term with remote learning. Specifically, there were concerns about ventilation in classrooms.

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Houston said there are 71 schools “that can do with” improvements to ventilation systems and the province is now addressing it.

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“This issue has been sitting on desks for years. We’re going to pick it up, we’re going to deal with it right now,” he said.

“Yesterday we authorized the purchase of ventilation units for classrooms in those 71 schools. We’ve been told that many, if not all of these systems, can be in place late next week.”

Case numbers, isolation rule changes, restrictions extended

The province reported 842 new cases, based on PCR testing by provincial labs, on Wednesday.

There are 45 people in hospital, with eight in ICU. Their age ranges from 26 to 98 years old and the average age is 70.

Of those in hospital:

  • 5 (11.1 per cent) have had a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine
  • 24 (53.3 per cent) are fully vaccinated (two doses)
  • 2 (4.4 per cent) are partially vaccinated
  • 14 (31.1 per cent) are unvaccinated

Current restrictions that took effect on Dec. 22, 2021 and were set to expire on Jan. 12 will now continue until Jan. 31. These restrictions include a gathering limit of 10 for informal indoor and outdoor gatherings. As well, festivals, special events, sports events, and in-person performances are not allowed.

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Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, said no new restrictions are needed.

“It is clear to me and hopefully clear to others that our response to the Omicron variant can’t be the same response that we had in Wave 1, 2 or 3. We are in a different place. We are asking people to do things and accept approaches that may be uncomfortable because they are different from what we’ve done in the past two years,” he said.

“The Omicron wave will pass through and we will move forward to living with COVID-19, but we do need to do it cautiously and in a way that minimizes overall harms –- both from the virus itself and the actions we take to slow it down.”

The province also announced isolation rule changes for those who test positive and for close contacts. The isolation requirements apply to rapid test or lab-based PCR test results and is based on a person’s age, household situation and vaccination status.

For example, a fully vaccinated person or child aged 11 or younger must isolate for a minimum of seven days following the onset of symptoms or a positive test if asymptomatic. They can leave isolation after Day 7 if there are no symptoms or symptoms are “improving” and there has been no fever for at least 24 hours.

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Meanwhile, an unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated, or immunocompromised person who test positive must isolate for a minimum of 10 days.

The province opened up booster dose eligibility to those aged 30 and over this week. 

Houston said 42 per cent of those in this age group has received a booster or has an appointment booked.

“That’s not an insignificant number, but it’s not 100 per cent either, I realize that,” he said.

“There’s work to be done, for sure, in getting the boosters out there, but it is being done.”

New vaccination clinics are being opened across the province later this month to increase capacity for vaccinations.

Outbreaks at hospitals, long-term care facilities

Nova Scotia Health Authority reported a new outbreak at Camp Hill Veterans Memorial site of the QEII Health Sciences Centre. Additional cases have also been reported in outbreaks at Northside General Hospital, a ward at New Waterford Consolidated Hospital and a ward at Victoria General site of the QEII Health Sciences Centre. Fewer than five patients at each facility have tested positive.

There are also ongoing outbreaks at the Halifax Infirmary, Dartmouth General Hospital, Victoria General site of the QEII Health Sciences Centre, St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish, New Waterford Consolidated Hospital and Cape Breton Regional Hospital. Fewer than 12 patients at each facility have tested positive.

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There are three outbreaks in long-term care facilities and Public Health is working to prevent further spread.

  • one staff member and seven residents at the New Vision Special Care Home in the Annapolis Valley
  • one staff members and four residents at Waterford Heights in New Waterford
  • six staff members and two residents Melville Gardens in Halifax

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