HALIFAX -- Dr. Jennifer Russell says reopening schools is the right thing to do and is also an important part of school life for kids to participate in sports and extracurricular activities.

"It's more than classes and books," said New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health. "Our children need to go back to school to see their friends and interact with their teachers and others."

Russell said there are many things that kids learn through these activities that can't be learned through a computer screen.

Research shows it helps makes kids more resilient and contributes to a decrease in mental health issues.

"They need to be with their peers," Dr. Russell said. "Their mental health and social development depend on it."

Russell said the province can't eliminate the fact the pandemic exists, but staff are working to make the activities "as safe as we can."

"These activities will look different because COVID-19 is still with us, and it will continue to be with us," Dr. Russell said. "There will be risks, which we will try to reduce, but can not eliminate. When our children play sports, there will be fewer people in the stands and on the sidelines."

George Daley, the deputy minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, said outdoor spaces will be used as much as possible for physical education.

Students participating in any event will have to sanitize their hands before participating.

"There will also be enhanced cleaning protocols for shared changing rooms and equipment," Daley said. "If that's not possible, the equipment will not be used."

He said gymnasiums or rooms where activities take place will be cleaned three times a day and students will have to maintain physical distancing -- just like in the classroom.

There will be markers, pylons, dividers, or tape to help students remember this and keep them apart. Also, sports-related physical contact like handshakes and high-fives will be "discouraged," Daley said.

Intramurals and interscholastic events will only be allowed in zones that are in the Yellow Phase. If a zone is in the orange or red phase, all sports and extracurricular activities will be suspended.

Interscholastic sports will require an operational plan and there will be strict rules for spectators.

For outdoor events, it will be limited to 50 and each will have to maintain a physical distance of two metres.

No spectators will be allowed for indoor events at schools.

Daley reminded students and parents of their role and said they should "continuously monitor their health" and not come to school if they're not feeling well.