N.B. students expected to return to in-person learning Jan. 31
New Brunswick’s education and early childhood development minister is hopeful students will return to in-person learning on Jan. 31, but public health will have the final say later this week.
“Certainly I'm optimistic it will be next week, because that was the date public health gave us," said Dominic Cardy. "But I'm not going to pre-judge their conclusions.”
Cardy unveiled the province’s back-to-school plan, which included certain public health safety protocols, such as masking, classroom bubbles and vaccine requirements for extracurricular activities, during a news conference on Monday.
Students from kindergarten to Grade 8 will be grouped in bubbles and everyone will be required to wear a mask, unless eating or drinking.
Cardy added there is a possibility that the province will remain in its Level 3 phase of COVID-19 restrictions by the time students return to school. If that happens, Cardy said all students will be expected to wear masks indoors and outdoors.
The education minister said it is recommended students wear a three-layer mask to school.
"It's a question of controlling the spread, not stopping it, and our schools are not going to be immune," said Cardy.
Cardy added that students from kindergarten to Grade 12 who develop one symptom of COVID-19 should register for a rapid test online.
Should a student test positive, Cardy said families will be responsible for notifying schools and all close contacts.
The minister also said, given the rapid spread of Omicron, the province has spent $3 million to purchase 2,000 HEPA filter units for 60 schools without integrated mechanical ventilation units. The filters are expected to be installed by Monday.
The assistant deputy minister said they commissioned a report that points to some benefit.
"We don't have studies specific to COVID, but we do have studies documenting that particulate matter can be taken out of the air effectively by these devices in closed settings," said Robert Penney.
As for vaccines, Cardy would like to see them become mandatory, but said they are looking at other ways to increase the vaccine rate.
"I think it should be a requirement, from my perspective," he said. "The in-school clinics that we offered had fairly limited pick-up, but we're going to take advice from public health on how best to increase that total number so we can make sure as many of the student population are vaccinated as possible."
The New Brunswick Teachers' Association says members will meet with teacher leaders across the province Tuesday evening to discuss the details released on Monday.
Meanwhile, the province says there are plenty of appointments available for parents and guardians looking to book their child’s first or second vaccine dose.
“It is important for parents with children aged five to 11 to get their child vaccinated to help protect against COVID-19 before in-person learning and other activities resume,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health. “This will reduce the likelihood of contracting the virus and spreading it to others.”
To date, 54.5 per cent of children in that age group have received their first dose. Public health says those children can receive their second dose eight weeks after getting their first.
The province says booster doses are available to everyone 18 and over, as long as five months have passed since their second dose. So far, 38.7 per cent of those eligible have received their COVID-19 booster.
New Brunswick said 131 people were in hospital with COVID-19 on Monday, including 12 people in intensive care.
Of those in hospital, 74 were hospitalized for reasons other than COVID-19.
The province said 101 people in hospital are over 60, and three are 19 years of age or under. Four people are on a ventilator.
COVID-19 CASE COUNT
Public health says there are 469 health-care workers isolating who have tested positive for the virus.
According to the province’s COVID-19 dashboard, there are 381 new COVID-19 cases reported Monday through PCR tests, and 659 reported through rapid tests.
Three people have also died from the virus. This includes a person 90 and over in Zone 1 (Moncton region), a person between 80-89 in Zone 2 (Saint John region) and a person between 70-79 years old in Zone 4 (Edmundston region).
The entire province of New Brunswick is currently in the Level 3 phase of its COVID-19 winter plan.
More information is available online.
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