N.S. chief doctor ‘disappointed’ after grads disregard physical distancing rules
HALIFAX -- Editor’s note: This article includes updated information received after our story aired on CTV News at 6.
A celebration for nearly 300 high school grads in Enfield, Nova Scotia, ended with attendees getting a bit too close and disregarding COVID-19 protocol, leading the province’s chief medical officer to voice his disappointment.
For students of Lockview High School, it was a graduation ceremony they likely won’t forget, even if it wasn’t what they expected.
"You think about this since you walk through the door in grade nine, like, 'I can't wait for my prom, I can't wait to graduate with my friends,” said graduate, Abby Perry. “So, it's not what we wanted – but I think it's more unique and special to have it this way."
Monday’s graduation ceremony held in the parking lot of Scotia Speedworld wasn’t approved by Lockview High School. Instead it was organized by parents of graduates, and sponsored by over 40 businesses in the community.
"This was an important event, we wanted to show the grads that, as a community, we pull together,” said event organizer, Nicole Pearson-Nearing.
Organizers said they received written permission from Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, to hold the event – provided certain guidelines were followed.
When asked for confirmation, a spokesperson from the Department of Health and Wellness initially denied being aware of the event, saying that they were not familiar with the details of that specific graduation celebration.
After our broadcast, the spokesperson confirmed that Dr. Strang had in fact previously provided his support for the Lockview community graduation celebration, required that it met the requirements outlined in the public health order.
Initially, the more than 260 graduates were assigned seats spaced six feet apart, while their families were assigned parking spots with an empty space in between and told to stay in their vehicles.
But the appearance of a surprise musical guest – rapper, Classified –quickly turned the ceremony into a concert-like atmosphere, as graduates got up from their seats and gathered together in front of the stage. Attendees could also be seen exiting their vehicles and moving around the parking lot.
“(Dr. Strang) is disappointed to hear about a lack of physical distancing at a number of community-based celebrations,” wrote Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness spokesperson, Heather Fairbairn, in a statement on Monday. “COVID-19 is still an issue. Until there is a vaccine, we must remain vigilant and follow the public health measures and guidelines that are in place,”
Fairbairn also noted that graduation ceremonies have their own special health guidelines and are exempt from the outdoor gathering limit, which will be increased to 250 people on July 3.
However, those guidelines include several conditions that appear to have not been followed on Monday, including the specification that ‘graduates may only exit their vehicle to participate in a diploma ceremony or in a parade of graduates, and must practice physical distancing requirements’.
"We put a plan together saying it's going to be here, social distancing will be enforced,” said event organizer, Troy Devenne. “I've already broken up a few groups that were bending the rules, but we don't want to be known as the ‘COVID cluster,’ so we're really trying to keep it enforced with the kids."
When asked, the graduating students didn’t seem too concerned about the lack of physical distancing during the performance.
"There's not many cases in Nova Scotia anymore – I think it's all good," said one graduate.
"I mean, we're kind of safe right now, with the time we've had with no cases,” said another graduate. “I don't really feel that bad – but it's still kinda risky."
"Yeah, it could be dangerous,” said another graduate. “But I'm not feeling too bad about it."
After the surprise performance, the students were individually called to the stage and presented with a small gift, as loved ones honked their car horns in support.
Graduates say they appreciated one more chance to come together, even during a time when they’re supposed to be staying apart.
"You always grew up thinking you were going to have a graduation where you walk across the stage with thousands of people watching you,” said graduate, Haylee Nearing. “It's just nice to have something like this, where you can have a little bit of a celebration and come together with people we haven't seen in a very long time."
RCMP officers were also present at the ceremony, but did not appear to issue any tickets or warnings to graduates or attendees.