Nova Scotia school closures extended to May 1 due to COVID-19
Exams will be cancelled, planned school trips won't be happening
Nova Scotia's public schools and licensed child care providers will be closed until May 1 because of COVID-19, and Grade 12 students on track to graduate will do so, the province announced Monday. As well, it confirmed the first case of COVID-19 contracted through community spread.
Premier Stephen McNeil said all exams are cancelled and school trips that were planned won't be happening.
Schools were scheduled to reopen Monday, April 6, but the closures have been extended four weeks. The closure length will be reassessed closer to May 1.
McNeil said the province is launching e-learning options for students, as well as at-home options for those without internet.
The province also announced its first confirmed case of COVID-19 spread by transmission within the community, and the premier said the provincial state of emergency will be extended past April 5.
"While this wasn't unexpected, it was unsettling and a giant wake-up call for us all," McNeil said.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose by five to 127 on Monday.
Community spread didn't come from St. Patrick's Day event
The majority of the cases have been linked to travel or to close contact with someone else who travelled, but public health officials were unable to find such a link in one case.
"This is the individual we thought there was potential exposure at a St. Patrick's Day event," said Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, on Monday.
Strang said everyone at that event in Lake Echo, N.S., was tested. All tests were negative, which led officials to conclude the person who tested positive must have contracted COVID-19 somewhere else.
Public health officials have said community spread is expected, and that applying wider criteria for testing would eventually find such a case.
"We can expect to see more of these as time moves along," Strang said, urging people to strictly adhere to public health orders and directives, such as limiting gatherings to no more than five people, maintaining physical distancing of at least two metres between people and practising good hygiene.
Testing at long-term care homes
Strang also said four people at a long-term care facility in Enfield, N.S., tested positive for COVID-19. Two of the people are residents, while two are staff.
He said Emergency Health Services has mobile testing capacity and will be testing every resident and staff in the home.
Strang also said this is creating staffing issues, but the province is working to support residents during this time.
Strang said two other long-term care facilities have tested residents and staff.
Lewis Hall, a private retirement-living community in Dartmouth, N.S., had all tests come back negative.
Catherine MacPherson, the senior vice-president of operations for Shannex, said 17 residents tested negative. Another staff member who was working closely with the infected employee is still awaiting results.
MacPherson said the infected staff member last worked on March 22. Residents will be monitored for symptoms until April 5 and have their temperatures checked daily.
Strang said so far, all tests from the R.K. MacDonald Nursing Home in Antigonish, N.S., have been negative, but he said there is a small group of staff tests that weren't processed on Sunday and were being handled Monday.
Possible exposure at Elmsdale restaurant
Public health is also advising people of a potential exposure at Rob Bitar's Ristorante in Elmsdale, N.S., on March 23 and 24.
Anyone exposed to the virus at this location may develop symptoms up to, and including, Monday, April 6.
The province has conducted a total of 5,054 negative COVID-19 tests. Over 600 tests have been done in the last 24 hours.
Four people are in hospital and 10 people have recovered from COVID-19.
At-home learning packages
The province says all students in grades primary to 9 will receive at-home learning packages, which will be distributed biweekly by SaltWire Network, the company that owns the Chronicle Herald newspaper.
Students in grades 10 to 12 who require at-home learning packages will work with their individual teachers to make those arrangements.
Learning for students will be assignment- and project-focused. The premier said it will be up to teachers and school staff to determine who is "on track" to move forward to the next school year.
Students in grades 9 to 12 will also receive additional access to the Homework Hub, a free online resource and tutoring for math.
For students and adults with special needs, the province said it will allow teaching assistants and support workers to provide paid respite care in the community.
Not a directive to socialize
On Sunday, Premier Stephen McNeil asked Justice Minister Mark Furey to direct law enforcement to "escalate" efforts from education to enforcement.
"For those of you who choose not to follow the public health orders, police will force you to follow them," McNeil said Monday.
Strang said it's important for people to understand that the limits on social gatherings is not a directive to socialize.
"You should only get together in groups of five or less if it's absolutely necessary," he said.
"We need to stop this. People need to stay home, stay away from each other as much as possible."
Strang also said the cases emerging now are from exposure that happened one to two weeks ago.
"If you keep being lax about this, we keep having more opportunities for community spread," Strang said.
The premier slammed Nova Scotians who continue to get together "because they think it's their right."
McNeil noted the first death in Atlantic Canada from COVID-19 was announced on Monday in Newfoundland and Labrador. He said he doesn't want to see any Nova Scotian mourn the deaths of family members because of the virus.
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