Nova Scotia schools will move to online learning on Jan. 10, with in-class learning expected to return Jan. 17 to make classrooms better prepared to handle COVID-.19
During a press briefing announcement on Wednesday, Premier Tim Houston said it was “an extremely difficult decision.” In-class learning was previously set to begin Jan. 10.
Houston said the province is working to address concerns around communication, masks, COVID-19 testing and ventilation at schools.
Seventy-one schools that need better ventilation will be getting units and those will be in place by the end of next week, Houston said. He also said the province is working to make three-ply masks available to all students.
The province is expecting more rapid test kits soon and Houston said he hoped to have a better estimate of an arrival date some time next week.
He said the province is also working on how to communicate around COVID-19 cases in schools and safety precautions.
New self-isolation requirements
The province also announced new rules around self-isolation for people who test positive for COVID-19 or are close contacts. The new rules begin Friday at 6 am
Fully vaccinated people or children 11 and younger must:
- Isolate for a minimum of seven days following the onset of symptoms, or a positive test if asymptomatic.
- They can leave isolation after Day 7 if there are no symptoms, or if symptoms are improving, and there has been no fever for at least 24 hours.
An unvaccinated or partially vaccinated person or a person who is immunocompromised must isolate for a minimum of 10 days. They can leave isolation after Day 10 if they no longer have symptoms or their symptoms are improving and there has been no fever for at least 24 hours.
The province noted isolation requirements apply regardless of the type of test taken — rapid test or lab-based PCR test.
If a fully vaccinated person or child who is 11 or younger is identified as a close contact of a positive case, the province said:
- Get tested 72 hours after exposure and monitor for symptoms.
- If they take a PCR test, no further testing is needed unless symptoms develop.
- If they take a rapid test, they should do a second one 48 hours after the first.
Until they get a negative test result, close contacts should:
- Stay home except to go to school, work or child care and work from home as much as possible.
- Practice physical distancing when at work or school, including while eating or drinking.
- Continue to wear a fitted, three-layer mask and only do essential activities like getting groceries or picking up prescriptions if no one else can do it for them.
For everyone else who is a close contact, including people who are immunocompromised who haven’t had a booster:
- The self-isolation requirement is seven days.
- They can leave isolation after two negative rapid tests done on the sixth and eighth day or after one negative PCR test done on the sixth or seventh day.
- If symptoms develop, they must remain isolated and get tested.
In households, the province said if someone with COVID-19 can isolate completely separately from the rest of their household, then other members of the household follow the direction for close contacts.
However, if the person cannot isolate completely separately, then other members of the household must isolate along with them for the duration of their isolation — regardless of their vaccination status — and should be tested on the third or fourth day and again on the last day of isolation. They can leave isolation if the last test is negative.
The province noted the changes do not apply to people who work in a high-risk health-care setting, such as hospitals, home care and long-term care facilities. Whether they test positive or are a close contact, the province says they must notify their employer and follow their occupational health guidance.
45 people in hospital with COVID-19
Houston said 45 people are in hospital with COVID-19, including eight people in intensive care. He said the average length of stay in the hospital is 5.4 days.
Hospitalizations are currently well below those reported during the spring wave of COVID-19. More than 100 people were in hospital due to the virus at one point in May.
Nova Scotia reported 842 new cases on Wednesday, with 498 cases in central zone, 141 cases in eastern zone, 121 cases in western zone and 82 cases in northern zone.
Of those in hospital:
- Five (11.1 per cent) have had a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
- 24 (53.3 per cent) have two doses.
- Two (4.4 per cent) are partially vaccinated.
- 14 (31.1 per cent) are unvaccinated.
Only 10 per cent of Nova Scotians are unvaccinated, the province noted in a news release.
“The very high level of our vaccine coverage is what is keeping us as safe as we are right now. I don’t even want to think about what Omicron might look like if we didn’t have vaccination,” said Nova Scotia Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang.
Strang said the Omicron variant is affecting access to some health care. He said people experiencing emergencies will get care, but “if your health care concern is not emergent, please don’t visit an emergency department.”
Current COVID-19 restrictions will remain in place until at least Jan. 31, Strang said.
As of Wednesday, 42 per cent of the eligible population had received a booster shot or booked one, Houston said.
Houston noted 12,600 boosters “went into arms” on Tuesday and that set a new record for the province. He said more appointments are opening up and that an appointment will be available for everyone.
Houston said more testing will soon become available in Cape Breton.
He said a testing center opened in New Waterford Wednesday and more would be opening in Glace Bay and Sydney. He also said there would be mobile testing available by Friday.
According to the provincial COVID-19 dashboard, about 84 per cent of people hospitalized with the virus from March 15 to Dec. 17 were unvaccinated.
Visitor restriction recommendations
Nova Scotia’s Department of Seniors and Long-Term Care is recommending that long-term care facilities close to visitors effective Friday at 6 am
Two designated caregivers per resident should still be allowed to visit so they can provide physical and mental support., the department recommended. It also said the sector is currently experiencing staff shortages because people are in COVID-19 isolation.
Temporarily closing to most visitors is strongly advised to minimize the risk of spread in facilities and the impact of exposures to both residents and staff, the department noted.
The department will reassess the situation on Jan. 17.
Several hospitals have reported outbreaks, including the Halifax Infirmary, Dartmouth General, the Victoria General site of the QEII Health Sciences Centre, St. Martha’s Regional and New Waterford Consolidated.
As of Wednesday morning, Nova Scotia Health limited all hospitals in the province to one dedicated visitor per in-patient, with some exceptions, including children under 19 or critically ill patients.
On Wednesday evening, the health authority said in a release that in-patients at the following sites in the eastern zone cannot receive visitors at all due to COVID-19 activity and staffing requirements:
- St. Martha’s Regional Hospital.
- Inverness Consolidated Memorial Hospital.
- New Waterford Consolidated Hospital.
- Northside General Hospital.
Atlantic Canada case numbers
- Newfoundland and Labrador reported 479 new cases Wednesday for a total of 3,665 active cases. There are three people in hospital.
- Prince Edward Island reported 222 new cases Wednesday. There are 1,378 active cases. Three people are in hospital being treated for COVID-19, one in intensive care. There are four people in hospital for other reasons who have tested positive for the virus.
- New Brunswick reported three deaths and 779 new cases on Wednesday. There are 59 people in hospital, including 16 in intensive care.