N.S. shuts down public schools in Halifax and surrounding areas because of rising number of COVID-19 cases
HALIFAX -- With the number of cases in schools growing, the province announced Monday afternoon that it is shutting down all public schools in Halifax Regional Municipality and surrounding areas.
"The virus is on the move in the Halifax Regional Municipality," Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin said during a new conference on Monday afternoon. "We have community spread and we need to do all we can to slow it down"
Schools will be closed as of Tuesday and students will begin at-home learning beginning Thursday for at least seven school days.
"The safety and well-being of everyone in our schools is our main concern. Every decision we make for our schools is out of an abundance of caution and in consultation with public health," Derek Mombourquette, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development said in a news release. "Moving schools in HRM and surrounding areas to at-home learning is a necessary step at this important juncture. I know this will be difficult for some families, but Nova Scotians have shown time and time again that they'll step up in our fight against this virus."
The province said in a news release that families will receive an update from their school centre or principal later on Monday and the decision will be re-evaluated on Friday, May 7.
Nova Scotia set another single-day high for COVID-19 cases Monday with 66 new infections.
Health officials identified 58 cases in the Halifax area, five in the eastern zone, two in the western zone and one in the northern zone. The province has 323 active reported infections.
Nine more school-based cases were identified late Sunday, including eight in the Halifax area and one in Sydney Mines, N.S. As of mid-afternoon Monday, 29 schools were closed provincewide, including 25 in the Halifax area, where community spread of the virus has been detected.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang has said community spread has not been detected in other areas of the province, although he said he's concerned about a cluster of cases in Cape Breton. He has also said he expects cases to rise in the coming days.
"We're also looking at our Cape Breton schools," Rankin said. "There are currently three schools with reported cases of COVID. None of our students have tested positive. At this point there is no known community spread. I want to assure all parents and teachers and staff and students that we're watching this very carefully. We have added testing sites in the community and we encourage everyone to get tested, including students. I know you're worried in Cape Breton but please know we are monitoring to see what happens and we will act swiftly when required."
Late Monday evening, the province announced it was closing Sydney Academy after a case was identified in that community.
"Sydney Academy in Sydney will remain closed to students until Friday," the province said in a news release. "A deep cleaning will take place and students will learn from home during the closure. Families will receive an update on Thursday."
The province also announced positive cases at Bedford and Forsyth Education Centres (Bedford campus) and Halifax West High, but those schools were already moving to at-home learning, as was announced Monday afternoon. These schools will also undergo a deep cleaning.
The Nova Scotia Teachers' Union issued a new release Monday questioning why the province hasn't forced more schools to go into full remote learning. Union president Paul Paul Wozney said schools in other regions should join those in Dartmouth, N.S., and surrounding communities that are only offering classes remotely.
"Where community spread is present, schools are not healthy learning environments right now," Wozney said. "NSTU is confident that our teachers are well prepared to provide quality remote learning during the circuit-break measure."
A pediatric advisory committee, however, issued a statement stressing the importance of face-to-face, in-classroom learning. Dr. Andrew Lynk, chief of pediatrics at IWK Health, said schools have been shown to be areas of low to minimal disease transmission and do not amplify community spread.
"Community gatherings, especially with close family and friends, are activities that present much higher risk for transmission," Lynk said in the statement. Closing schools, he added, hurts the health and well-being of children, which is why keeping children in schools should remain "a priority within education."
"If, though, as a last resort, in-class learning is suspended because of the pandemic, we hope that all schools are prepared to pivot to online learning in a timely fashion," Lynk said.
With files from The Canadian Press.