HALIFAX -- The head of pediatrics at the IWK Health Centre advised the province of Nova Scotia that closing schools could adversely affect the health and wellbeing of children and should be only be done as a last resort.

Dr. Andrew Lynk, the head of pediatrics at the IWK Health Centre, said research that examines how schools have handled the COVID-19 pandemic, shows that it is best to keep them open unless there is community spread of the novel coronavirus.

"When that community spread starts to come up, we pivot to a blended model, and if it gets higher then we go to online learning," Lynk told CTV Atlantic's Steve Murphy in an interview on Tuesday.

He said this a day after the province closed schools in the Halifax area and just a couple hours after a province-wide lockdown was announced – which included all public and private schools.

"I'm a little surprised that we have gone province-wide, but I'm sure there are reasons for that," Lynk said. "The best place for kids to be when there is no community spread is in school."

Lynk says that's where they learn the best and get any support they need and that's especially true for any kids with special needs or medical issues.

"If it's just for two weeks, I'm sure we'll manage, but schools should be the last thing to close," Lynk said.

Lots of children rely on schools, he said, for mental health services, a hot lunch, and other supports.

"Schools are also early warning systems for kids who might be abused," Lynk said, noting that the incidence of child abuse has gone up during the pandemic.

When asked what should parents tell young children about why they are staying home, he recommended being honest with them.

He also said they can be encouraged to help fight COVID-19.

"By masking, washing their hands, keeping their distance, they can be a part of this effort to get rid of this virus," Lynk said.