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Nova Scotia mandates masks for students in Grade 4 and up; $40 million set aside for more teachers, cleaners, supplies

Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill arrives at a news briefing on Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, held to provide an update on back-to-school COVID-19 safety protocols.
Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill arrives at a news briefing on back-to-school COVID-19 safety protocols on Friday in Halifax. - Eric Wynne

Nova Scotia students in grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear masks in school, officials said in an update to plans around schools reopening on Sept. 8. 

All students in grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear a mask inside schools except if they are seated at their desks while two metres apart and facing in the same direction. They must also be worn in hallways and other common areas if a two-metre distance cannot be maintained.

Staff also must wear masks when social distancing isn't possible. 

“The decision to require masks for grades 4 and up in our schools is in line with recent evidence and guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada,” said Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief public health officer, said in a news release. 

“Along with all the other public health measures, masks will help protect our school communities from COVID-19.”

Nova Scotia's original plan had mandated masks only for older students and only in hallways.

Education Minister Zach Churchill announced that $40 million will be spent to hire more teachers, cleaners and other staff, as well as supplies such as masks. 

“Our goal, first and foremost, is student and staff safety. We developed our plan to be flexible, to best support the return to school for children, students and staff,” said Churchill in a news release. “This change is in line with new federal recommendations around mask wearing and what we know about their effectiveness to prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially when wearing masks.”

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, removes his non-medical mask before the start of a news briefing in Halifax on Friday. - Eric Wynne
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, removes his non-medical mask before the start of a news briefing in Halifax on Friday. - Eric Wynne

At a news briefing Friday, Strang said he "fully expects" there will be COVID-19 cases in schools and the goal will be to keep case numbers as low as possible. 

Any outbreaks will be handled on a case-by-case basis, Strang told reporters in Halifax. 

He said children need to be in school for their overall health and social development but it's normal for parents to feel fear and uncertainly about the COVID-19 risk. 

Additional measures and information for families ahead of September include:

  • school-by-school ventilation maintenance will take place to ensure equipment is operating properly and in good condition and that windows can be opened
  • masks and hand sanitizers are starting to arrive at schools. All students and staff will receive two free cloth masks. Disposable masks will also be available if a student forgets or loses their mask during the school day
  • Regional centres for education and the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial, will continue to communicate with families. Principals will also reach out to families with specific information about their school closer to September
  • before and after school programs will be offered in accordance with public health guidelines
  • schools, with the support of public health, will notify families as soon as they become aware of a COVID-19 case in their school, along with what measures will need to be taken.
  • a return to school sport schedule and protocols that follow public health guidelines are in the final stage of development with Sports Nova Scotia and will be sent to schools by the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation
  • resources for families and students are currently available at https://novascotia.ca/backtoschool with more to be added.

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