GUYSBOROUGH – As COVID-19 case counts mount in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia adjusted its reopening plan last week, providing information on public school exposures, introducing mandatory vaccination policies for some occupations and the continuance of mask wearing in public places.
Public school exposure notices
In the weeks following the resumption of public school in September, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and a group of concerned parents called Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education, called on the government to resume listing COVID-19 exposure notifications for public schools. This had been Public Health’s practice during the 2020-2021 school year.
Due to what it viewed as a lack of information provided by Nova Scotia Public Health on school exposures this year, Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education began compiling exposure lists, where cases within schools were confirmed through parents who had received notification from schools or Public Health, an article from Global News reported last week.
On Sept. 27, the province announced it would begin reporting the number of COVID-19 cases in schools the following day.
During the provincial COVID-19 technical briefing for media on Sept. 29, The Journal asked Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang why the decision was made initially not to list COVID exposures in public schools this year, and why did it take pressure from a parents’ group to change that policy.
Strang responded, “We’re trying to normalize our communication around COVID … in the third wave we were doing a specific press release around every school exposure. We’ve always made sure that those who need to know – those who might have potentially been exposed, whether it is through their work or they’re families with kids in school – were well aware.
“It’s not from the pressure from school groups, that have done this; clearly, with the number of schools involved, and where we are with the fourth wave, we need to revisit our communications and make sure that Nova Scotians have the right information around schools. But again, we are only listing schools that have people that have been infected in the schools. There is much more communication that goes on and has always gone on to those that really need to know the detailed about possible exposures.”
During the Sept. 29 press conference, it was announced that along with the implementation of a proof of vaccination program – that came into effect Oct. 4 – the province would also mandate that Nova Scotians working in healthcare and education must be vaccinated.
“Despite having a highly vaccinated population, the pandemic is still having deadly consequences in the fourth wave,” said Premier Tim Houston. “There have been three deaths in the last week alone and we need to do whatever we can to make sure other families don’t have to grieve their loved ones. Too many Nova Scotians have chosen not to get vaccinated, and some of them work with Nova Scotians most at risk from COVID-19. It is time to get tough.”
These employees have until Nov. 30 to be fully vaccinated. If a healthcare or education employee is not fully vaccinated by Nov. 30, they will be placed on unpaid administrative leave.
The new vaccine mandate applies to:
- Nova Scotia Health Authority and IWK Health Centre
- workers in long-term care facilities (licensed and unlicensed) and home-care agencies (publicly and privately funded)
- public school teachers, pre-primary and other school-based staff, regional and board office staff, and those providing services in schools, including cafeteria and school bus services
- Hearing and Speech Nova Scotia
- workers in residential facilities and day programs funded by the Department of Community Services Disability Support Program and adult day programs funded by Department of Seniors and Long-Term Care
- workers in Department of Community Services facilities and those providing placements for children and youth in the care of the Minister of Community Services (excluding foster family placements)
- paramedics, LifeFlight nurses and some other staff at EHS
- physicians and other service providers to the above organizations; for example hairdressers and contractors
- correctional officers, youth workers, staff volunteers, visitors, contractors and service providers who work in, or provide service to adult or youth correctional facilities
- early childhood educators and staff in regulated child care, as well as any volunteers, practicum students, or other professionals entering these settings
One month ago, Nova Scotians expected that a move into Phase 5 of the reopening plan would mean an end to wearing masks in public places. The province, taking stock of the success and failure of reopening plans elsewhere, has decided to err on the side of caution and maintain the mask mandate.
“The Delta variant has impacted our epidemiology. The fourth wave is taking its toll across the country and it’s now in Nova Scotia,” said Premier Houston during the same press conference. “We can lift some restrictions with the added protection of the proof of full vaccine protocol and our high vaccination rates but masking and limits for informal gatherings need to stay in place. We’re taking a cautious approach so we can keep moving forward, even in the midst of the fourth wave.”
As of Oct. 4, the following public health rules apply:
- masks will continue to be mandatory in indoor public places
- physical distancing and gathering limits for events hosted by a recognized business or organization will be lifted
- the informal gathering limits of 25 people indoors and 50 outdoors will remain in place
- proof of full vaccination will be required for non-essential events and activities
The list of public-school exposures is available at: https://backtoschool.ednet.ns.ca/school-exposures.
COVID-19 exposure sites within the community can be found at: https://www.nshealth.ca/coronavirus-exposures.