COVID 19: New Brunswick education minister hoping for normal school year

Click to play video: 'N.B. education minister addresses COVID-19 vaccination rates for young people'
N.B. education minister addresses COVID-19 vaccination rates for young people
WATCH: New Brunswick Education Minister Dominic Cardy says schools will return without masks but has raised concerns about vaccination rates, especially among young people. Nathalie Sturgeon reports. – Aug 31, 2022

New Brunswick’s education minister said Wednesday he is hoping for a “reasonably normal” school year as students get ready for another academic term with COVID-19 still posing a threat.

COVID-19 will continue to present challenges, and the government has put some measures in place to help keep the virus at bay, Dominic Cardy told reporters. Teachers are “strongly encouraged” to have children outside as much as possible and use air filtration systems when inside the classroom, he said.

Schools are set to reopen from the summer break next week, and masking is no longer mandatory for students or staff.

Adam Bowie, spokesman for the Health Department, said everyone has a role to play in keeping schools healthy and reducing the spread of germs and illnesses.

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Public health officials are asking students, staff and their families to do their own risk assessment to determine how they would be affected by COVID-19 and to take appropriate precautions, he said in an email. Vaccines and general hygiene such as hand washing and covering one’s mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing remain the best ways to fight COVID-19, he added.

“Students and staff will also be asked to be patient and kind with others, remembering that everyone has a different comfort and risk level,” Bowie said. “If someone wants to wear a mask, that’s OK, and they’ll be supported.”

Dr. Mark MacMillan, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, said physicians want people to remember that COVID-19 is still around. “We still have to be cognizant of that,” he said.

“That it is still present in the environment.”

People should consider wearing a mask when they are in an indoor space such as a school or a public library and when around those who are vulnerable or have a weakened immune system, MacMillan said.

“We need to continue to think of others as we think about ourselves, and try to protect ourselves and those around us.”

There has been a “slight increase” in COVID-19 infections over the past few weeks and more people have died because of the virus, he said.

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The province reported an increase in hospitalizations due to COVID-19 from 21 to 33 for the week of Aug. 21 to 27. New Brunswick health officials also reported four fatalities related to the virus.

Click to play video: 'Concern as new school year starts in N.B. without mask mandate'
Concern as new school year starts in N.B. without mask mandate

MacMillan said public health is working closely with the Department of Education to monitor COVID-19 numbers. If the number of infections rises, he said officials will consider making changes.

“Whether that be temporary closures of a classroom, or you know, temporary masking mandates depending on the situation,” he said.

He emphasized the importance of students getting back to school and being with others of their own age, noting it will help children in their mental health. “It’s been two and a half years of pandemic time and many students are very excited with the idea of getting back in the classroom.”

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Cardy said there may be some room to accommodate home learning for students with weakened immune systems.

“But we have to maintain that’s a fairly strict line,” he said.

“We’ll do our best to accommodate where we can, but it is limited by resources.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2022.

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