Education minister Becky Druhan held an update on December 28 alongside chief medical officer of health doctor Robert Strang
Education minister Becky Druhan held an update on December 28 alongside chief medical officer of health doctor Robert Strang

Nova Scotia students will return to classrooms January 10

Despite Omicron infections rising, the government says schools are the best place for kids.

Nova Scotian students are headed back to school in person this January, but a week later than planned. Students will return to school Jan 10.

“The strong commitment of Nova Scotians to follow public health guidelines and look out for each other has allowed us to keep our students in school, and experts agree the best place for students is in the classroom,” said provincial education and early childhood development minister Becky Druhan in a press conference on Tuesday.

When students return, the government says there will be several new policies followed to ensure that children are safe. Staff will return Jan 4.

“We have seen the situation evolve and we’re learning to live with COVID,” Druhan said. “For now this involves following new guidelines that offer layers of protection to slow COVID’s spread to protect our most vulnerable.”

A press release further clarified that there will be “strict cohorting” of students, but doesn’t define how that will be done in schools. It also says there will be no large assemblies, gatherings or events, no non-essential visitors, reminding families to keep students home when they're sick, enforcing proper mask-wearing, and the continuation of regular hand hygiene and enhanced cleaning.

Druhan called this a “layered approach that has been so successful in our schools.”

For students aged 5-12, who became eligible to be vaccinated Dec 2, the vaccination rate currently sits around 32 percent, according to the province’s data. For older youth aged 12-19, the vaccination rate is significantly higher, averaging 83.5 percent.

But the Omicron COVID-19 variant causes concerns of more rapid spread that weren’t there in the 2020-21 school year, or even in fall 2021.

click to enlarge The Dec 28 update was held virtually via Zoom. - VIA ZOOM
via Zoom
The Dec 28 update was held virtually via Zoom.

“I hope we’re near the peak of this Omicron wave but we’re not yet seeing any real decline,” said doctor Robert Strang during the same update. “Our hospitalizations have moderately increased but so far our health system is managing despite many health care workers off sick or isolating.”

Students and staff will be required to wear three-ply masks now, except when actively eating and drinking. All students and staff were to be given three-ply masks at the beginning of the school year, but that was four months ago, and many parents say their children didn’t receive enough masks—or any at all.

Public health says it has ordered more, and “all staff and students will each receive an additional 3-ply mask.”

Even with recent COVID spread, public health says schools are not a high transmission site and that it's the best place for students to be.

“The in-school experience is vital to a young person’s development and wellbeing,” said Druhan. “Schools are so much more than a place to learn. Schools are where students build lifelong connections, friendships, they play, they access food and mental health resources.”

If students were required to complete at-home learning, parents would struggle to take time off or arrange costly childcare. But even with in-school learning that may be the case, as students are required to stay home if they feel unwell, are in close contact with a positive case, or test positive on a rapid test.

“The variant and the way it’s spreading is causing us to change the way we manage and respond to COVID-19,” Strang said. “We are not going to stop the spread of this variant like we did in other waves, our goal now is to slow it down to protect our most vulnerable,” he added, echoing Druhan’s earlier comment.

The government will also end contact tracing in schools, requiring parents or dedicated teachers to do that themselves. In the last seven days of announcing exposures at schools (Dec 17-23), there were 70 exposure notices for schools across the province.

“Our approach to returning to schools is about balance, one of our key priorities has always been to keep children in school whenever possible,” said Strang. “The concerns about controlling what is generally a relatively minor disease in children near to be weighed against the clear harms and risks of children not being in school and learning at home.”

Clearly, this decision is multifaceted, and neither in-person learning or at-home learning would please everyone. But with the Omicron variant causing upwards of 500 new infections daily in Nova Scotia, the government, public health, parents and students will be—once again—living through unprecedented times in the 2022 school year.

The government says schools will share more information with families about enhanced measures the week of January 4, and another COVID update from doctor Robert Strang and premier Tim Houston is expected at 2pm on Thursday, Dec 30.

About The Author

Victoria Walton

Once a freelancer, Victoria has been a full-time reporter with The Coast since April 2020, covering everything from COVID-19 to small business to politics and social justice. Originally from the Annapolis Valley, she graduated from the University of King’s College School of Journalism in 2017.

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