Nova Scotia has announced it is removing the mask requirement in public schools as of next week.
In a Thursday morning release, the province said “masks will continue to be recommended” and those “who choose to wear a mask will be supported.”
The province previously lifted mask requirements everywhere but schools, hospitals and long term care, along with most other restrictions on March 21.
As of May 24, school students, staff and visitors will not be required to wear a mask in Nova Scotia.
Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Becky Druhan said in the release masks helped schools mitigate the impact of COVID-19’s sixth wave.
According to the Thursday release, warmer weather and the possibility for outdoor classes means it is time to remove the requirement.
“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve worked closely with public health and taken steps to keep staff and students safe,” said Druhan.
“We strongly encourage students and staff to continue to wear masks, and we will continue to support staff and students as well as continue to supply masks and hand sanitizer.”
The news comes as the province released its weekly epidemiology report. For the seven-day period ending May 18, there were 24 additional deaths linked to COVID-19 in the province — up from 18 in the previous week.
There were also 2,513 new lab-confirmed cases of the virus reported.
Sarah Knight, a Halifax mother of two children aged five and nine, said the decision worries her.
“I don’t understand the reasoning as to why they’re getting rid of it,” said Knight in a Thursday afternoon interview.
She said she felt a little bit better knowing masks, and sanitizer will continue to be provided, saying it won’t be a complete “free-for-all.”
But she said her children will continue to mask, even if class moves outdoors. Trusting them to follow her direction is her only choice.
“You’re just going to have to hope that your kid, if you choose to send your kid with a mask, that they’re actually going to wear it.”
Mixed response from teachers
Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union, said at this phase in the pandemic it’s “not unexpected” that the province got to this point.
“In our view, masking was really the only layer of protection that government and public health were willing to put in place to mitigate a rise of teacher absenteeism directly connected to the impact of COVID,” Wozney said.
“Despite masking, we’ve had a lot of problems with staffing, and I guess we’re about to find out whether or not by removing masks (if) those problems will remain at their current crisis levels, or if things could possibly get worse.”
Wozney said the announcement has received mixed responses from teachers so far.
He said the union was notified about the province’s decision but did not participate in the discussions leading up to the lifting of the mandate.
“A concern in the background is whether or not this is going to lend to conflict now that masks are recommended but not mandatory,” Wozney said.
“Anytime it becomes an option, you enter into a space as a teacher or as a member of school staff where there’s potential for conflict, given the competing values about masking.”
Nova Scotia is the last province in the country to lift this measure.
— With files from Mitchell Bailey and Graeme Benjamin.