COVID-19: N.S. changes course, will keep masks in schools a few more weeks

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COVID-19: Nova Scotia to keep masks in schools until mid-April, but most measures still to lift March 21 – Mar 18, 2022

Nova Scotia has announced it will keep mask mandates in place for schools when all remaining COVID-19 restrictions are set to be lifted on Monday.

Premier Tim Houston announced the measure on Friday just ahead of a briefing, and said some measures will remain mandatory for schools, healthcare and long-term care.

“In public schools, masking remains mandatory for a few more weeks,” read a release.

“I know there will be mixed emotions among students and parents about the decision to keep masks on for a little longer,” said Premier Tim Houston in the release.

“But when we have new information, we reassess.”

This comes just a day after a group of eight pediatric doctors wrote an open letter to Nova Scotia parents and students, encouraging them to keep wearing masks in schools even as COVID-19 restrictions lift.

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Read more: Even as restrictions lift, N.S. pediatric group ‘strongly’ recommends masks in schools

In the letter from the Nova Scotia Pediatric Pandemic Advisory Group, the doctors said they recognize “this has been two years of anxiety, fear, and frustration for many Nova Scotians, including our children.”

“The lifting of mandated pandemic measures has been a welcome shift for many in our province. However, although case counts and hospitalizations are slowly declining, we acknowledge that they do remain high,” the letter said.

On Friday, Houston said after speaking to the province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang, and Dr. Andrew Lynk who signed the open letter, keeping masks in schools “made sense.”

“For everyone else, you don’t need restrictions to keep wearing your mask and doing what makes sense to protect yourself and others,” he said.

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In the briefing, Houston said masks can be expected to remain until mid-April in schools, hospitals, long-term care homes and jails.

All other provincial COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted on Monday.

This means there will be no gathering limits or capacity limits for private or organized events.

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Physical distancing will not be required and businesses across all sectors can resume full operations.

Special events like festivals, sports, performances and faith ceremonies can also resume in full.

However, the province said “people should still keep their social groups small and consistent.”

Read more: Dr. Lisa Barrett tests positive for COVID-19, talks symptoms and why keeping contacts low matters

When it comes to masks, Houston said in the briefing that public health still recommends that people follow the soon-to-be-removed measure.

“We recommend that people continue to mask and do what they know is necessary to keep their families safe,” Houston said.

“I just don’t think it’s necessary any longer for the government to make it illegal to not do so.”

Strang said even though children are at low risk of developing a serious illness from COVID-19, masks are remaining in schools because of the amount of people gathering in one place.

“(They) bring all their community exposures into one situation for long periods of time during the day,” he said in the briefing.

Read more: Halifax updates COVID-19 protocols for municipal services

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Masks are a part of the province’s commitment to keeping kids in schools and ensuring classrooms are not understaffed due to infections and isolations, Strang said.

Weekly data update

Nova Scotia reported 15 new COVID-19 deaths between March 9 and 15.

In that period there were also 2,888 new PCR-confirmed cases of the virus, an average of 412 cases a day.

Public health saw 41 new hospital admissions and 23 discharges.

As of Thursday, there are 38 active COVID-19 hospitalizations including 12 patients in ICU.

The age range of those hospitalized ranges from zero to 100, but the median age is 66.

“What we’re seeing in this week’s report is not unexpected,” said Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, in the release.

“The pandemic is not over — and you can see that when you look at positive lab tests and hospitalizations in particular.”

In the weekly update, the province said as of Tuesday, 87.1 per cent of Nova Scotians are fully vaccinated and 7.8 per cent remain unvaccinated.

About 63.2 per cent of residents aged 18 and older have received a third or booster dose.

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Read more: Nova Scotia COVID-19 unit workers prepare for life with eased restrictions

Nova Scotia officials are scheduled to hold a news briefing Friday afternoon, just a couple of days before most remaining COVID-19 restrictions are set to lift.

The news conference with Premier Tim Houston and chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang is scheduled to begin at 3:15 p.m. and will be live streamed here.

On Monday, there will be no more capacity limits and masking will no longer be required in public spaces, but will still be recommended.

“We are at a critical period with phase three just days away. It is more important than ever to do the things we know will keep ourselves and others safe,” Strang said in Friday’s release.

“Get vaccinated. Get boosted if you’re eligible. Wear your mask. Keep your social circles small and consistent. Stay home if you’re sick, and test to protect the people you love.”

When students return to classes following March Break, there will be no restrictions or measures — however, an expert group on pediatrics has “strongly” recommended that masking continue in schools.

The province has moved to weekly reporting of COVID-19 cases. Thursday’s weekly report was delayed and was scheduled to now be released on Friday.

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— With files from Alex Cooke. 

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