COVID restrictions extended, school opening pushed back




SaltWire Network


Prior to a Jan. 5 provincial COVID briefing, Paul Wozney hadn’t had a lot of kind words for the Nova Scotia government when it came to it’s handling of the COVID19 pandemic in schools during this latest wave of increased COVID cases. But after the briefing the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union sounded pleased when asked for a response to the province’s plan to address deficiencies while students remain out of class until Jan. 17. Rather than students returning to the classroom on Jan. 10, online learning will start that day, except for learning centres in schools, which will be open for students with high needs. “This is arguably the first time that we’ve seen government tangibly take into account union proposals for what it takes to have safe, sustainable in-person learning and actually spend the money and implement those changes,” Wozney said after the briefing. ‘EXTREMELY DIFFICULT DECISION’ Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston announced the school plan with Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, which also, he said, includes improving ventilation in schools. He acknowledged the unscheduled delay in the return to school will be hard on families struggling with work and child-care challenges, for which he apologized. A support program for Nova Scotians who must miss work because of COVID-19 was set to come into effect on Jan. 10, retroactive to Dec. 20, 2021. “This one-week delay was an extremely difficult decision,” Houston said. “The best place for our children is in school.” The back-to-school plan addresses: • ventilation: 71 schools need increased ventilation. The province will buy ventilation units for all of those schools • masks and tests: Threeply masks and rapid COVID19 tests will be available for students, hopefully on the day they return to school Jan. 17. • communication procedures: Houston reassured teachers, staff, parents and students that they will be safe and will be returning to where people have their best interests at heart. ISOLATION RULE CHANGES The province announced on Jan. 5 that current COVID restrictions put in place late last month that were to expire on Jan. 12 are being extended to Jan. 31. Starting Friday, Jan. 7, the province also changed the isolation period for those who are vaccinated. “Evidence shows that the omicron variant has a shorter incubation period than the original strain and the majority of transmission happens in the early part of the illness," said Dr. Strang. "Generally, one or days before a positive test or when symptoms begin and in the first two to three days after.” The isolation period had been 10 days. People who are fully vaccinated and children under 12 must now isolate for at least seven days after a positive test or the onset of symptoms. They can leave isolation after Day 7 if there are no symptoms or symptoms are improving and there has been no fever for at least 24 hours Those who are not fully vaccinated or who are immunocompromised must still isolate for at least 10 days. The isolation requirements are also changing for close contacts. If a fully vaccinated person or child who is 11 or younger is identified as a close contact of a positive case: • they should get tested 72 hours after exposure and watch for symptoms • if they take a PCR test, no further testing is needed unless they develop symptoms • if they take a rapid test, they should do a second rapid test 48 hours after the first If someone with COVID19 cannot completely isolate separately from others, other members of the household must isolate along with them during their isolation – regardless of their vaccination status – and should be tested on Day 3 or 4 and again on the last day of isolation. They can leave isolation if the last test is negative. LONG-TERM CARE RESTRICTIONS The Seniors and Longterm Care Department also strongly recommended that nursing homes close to visitors effective Friday, Jan. 7, at 6 a.m., while saying, though, that two designated caregivers per resident should still be allowed to visit so they can provide physical and mental support. The department said it will reassess the situation on Jan. 17. The omicron outbreak has caused a staffing crunch in long-term care and other health-care sectors, noted Strang. Hospitals are also overcapacity and people are waiting longer for care and seeing their procedures delayed or cancelled. An issue is healthcare workers who are needing to isolate. If a health issue is not urgent, Strang asked people to go to a clinic or call 811 for health advice instead of going to an emergency department. “We’re in the thick of the omicron variant outbreak,” Strang said, but added he believes this will be the last stage of the pandemic, particularly when spring approaches and people can get outside more.