Winter break extended for all N.S. public schools until Jan. 11
Schools will also start break Dec. 18 instead of Dec. 22
Nova Scotia is extending the winter break for public school students "out of an abundance of caution" and to potentially minimize the spread of COVID-19.
Premier Stephen McNeil announced Friday that schools in the province will close on Dec. 18, rather than Dec. 22, and reopen to students on Jan. 11, instead of Jan. 4.
"We were concerned quite frankly with the amount of family gatherings that would be taking place, people that would be in contact with each other, that if we closed it for the extra week, it would give us that two-week cycle from Christmas Day over to January 11," McNeil said in a news conference Friday.
"And if there was any kind of an outbreak in our communities we would be able to identify before we actually had kids going back to school."
Staff will return to school on Jan. 4 for five days of professional learning.
The announcement came the same day a second case of the virus was identified at Shannon Park Elementary School in Dartmouth. The first case was identified Tuesday.
The school has been closed since the first case was announced there on Tuesday. Students are now expected to return next Wednesday.
Students will continue to learn from home during the closure and families will receive an update on Tuesday.
Krista Stewart-Whalen, a Halifax barber who recently returned to work during the pandemic, said the school closure puts her and other working parents in a difficult position.
She has three children — ages five, seven and 10 — and said she can't afford to take time off work during the longer school break.
"I've been trying to figure out what I'm going to do," Stewart-Whalen told CBC Radio's Mainstreet on Friday. "It puts me in a very tight spot because I don't know who is going to watch the kids as I continue barbering."
She said if she can't find child care that means a week with no money coming in.
We're doing this to avoid bigger problems later on.- Zach Churchill, education minister
Education Minister Zach Churchill said keeping kids out of school after the holidays is an attempt to avoid future school shutdowns in the new year.
"We're doing this to avoid bigger problems later on, and there's the potential risk of intermingling and people having a relaxed time over the holidays and we want to make sure we give yourself a few days for people to check their symptoms," he told Mainstreet.
Churchill said if Public Health determines there's a need to extend the break even further due to rising case numbers or evidence of community spread, the province will do that.
He said at this point, the end of the school year won't be extended to account for the missing week after Christmas.
4 potential exposure locations
Nova Scotia Health issued four new potential COVID-19 exposures Friday:
- West Jet Flight WS 254 travelling from Toronto (Dec 9. at 9:45 p.m.) to Halifax (Dec. 10 at 12:48 a.m.). Passengers in rows 15-21 in seats A, B, and C are asked to continue to self-isolate and monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. Symptoms may develop up to, and including, Dec. 24.
- West Jet Flight WS 670 travelling Dec. 9 from Calgary (1:30 p.m.) to Toronto (7:15 p.m.). Passengers in rows 12-18, in seats D, E, and F are asked to continue to self-isolate and monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. Symptoms may develop up to, and including, Dec. 23.
- Canadian Tire at Highland Square Mall, 699 Westville Rd., New Glasgow, on Dec. 6 between 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Symptoms may develop up to, and including, Dec. 20.
- Atlantic Superstore at 394 Westville Rd., New Glasgow, on Dec. 6 between 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Symptoms may develop up to, and including, Dec. 20.
Outbreak declared at poultry plant
The province has declared an outbreak of COVID-19 at a large poultry facility plant in the Annapolis Valley after multiple cases were identified this week.
Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said all employees at Eden Valley Poultry in Berwick, N.S., have been tested. Nova Scotia Health is expecting the results from 300 employee tests today.
On Tuesday, Strang said two people had tested positive for the virus at the facility. Two more employees have tested positive since.
Strang said the infected individuals and their close contacts have been isolating.
The plant will be closed for the next two weeks and all employees will be tested again next week.
Strang said the outbreak began at the facility after an employee was infected by a family member who had travelled outside Atlantic Canada. He added there is no evidence of community transmission but asymptomatic testing will be enhanced throughout the Annapolis Valley area.
9 new cases
Nine new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the province on Friday, bringing the active total to 65.
Three cases are in the western zone, which includes the Annapolis Valley. Two of those cases are close contacts of previous cases and the other is under investigation. One case is in the northern zone and is under investigation.
The other five cases are in the central zone. Two are related to travel outside of Atlantic Canada and those people are self-isolating. One case is a close contact of a previous case, and one case is under investigation.
Nova Scotia labs completed 1,859 tests on Thursday.
Vaccine rollout in Nova Scotia
On Wednesday, Health Canada approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Nova Scotia is expecting one batch of 1,950 doses of the vaccine on Dec. 15, with regular weekly allotments starting in January.
Strang said Nova Scotia will eventually receive 150,000 doses, which is enough to immunized 75,000 people.
He said during the initial phase of immunization, vulnerable people will be the priority.
For the first three months of 2021, long-term care residents and staff, front-line health-care workers who respond to COVID-19 and the individuals who are 80 years or older, will be the first people to be vaccinated.
Strang said in the spring, Nova Scotia will receive more doses to immunize other health-care and essential workers. It won't be until the summer before the vaccine will be offered to the broader community.
"I know people are eager to get a COVID vaccine and that's encouraging but we need people to be patient," Strang said.
"We need you to understand this is going to be a months-long process and our roll out will follow a national evidence-based approached when it comes to who gets the vaccine and in what order."
Strang said COVID-19 guidelines, like mask-wearing and physical distancing, will remain in place, even as people start to be vaccinated.
More mental health funds
The province also has announced more mental health and addictions support to those struggling during the pandemic.
The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia will receive over $1.6 million to be distributed as grants to organizations across the province. Grants will be up to $25,000 each.
The province is also renewing the state of emergency. The order will take effect at noon Sunday and extend to noon on Dec. 27 unless the government terminates or extends it.
Cases in the Atlantic provinces
Newfoundland and Labrador announced on Monday that it would not rejoin the Atlantic bubble for at least a month. That means anyone arriving from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island will have to continue to self-isolate for 14 days.
P.E.I. announced on Thursday that its travel restrictions within the region would stay in place until at least Dec. 21.
New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health also commented on the fate of the Atlantic bubble Wednesday, saying the arrangement likely won't be reinstated anytime soon.
The latest numbers from the Atlantic provinces are:
- Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case Friday and has 20 active cases.
- New Brunswick reported eight new cases Friday and has 78 active cases. Four people are hospitalized with three in intensive care.
- P.E.I. reported no new cases Friday and had 12 active cases.
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With files from CBC's Mainstreet