Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia parents push back on idea to burst Atlantic bubble

Some parents in Nova Scotia are concerned about back-to-school safety if the province decides to open its borders to the rest of the country.

'Why aren’t we giving our kids a fighting chance?’ says frustrated parent

Raven Watts, who has a daughter going into Grade 2 in September, said the idea of opening up the provincial borders will put students at risk. (Submitted by Raven Watts)

Now that Nova Scotia has released its back-to-school plan, some parents are concerned about what that will look like if the province decides to open its borders to the rest of the country without the 14-day self-isolation period.

While Premier Stephen McNeil said Nova Scotia is "not there yet," he told reporters in a July 31 COVID-19 briefing the province is looking into possible ways it could work. 

Raven Watts, a member of the group Parents for Pandemic Education, doesn't like the idea of reopening to provinces outside of the Atlantic bubble.

"If we open up our borders and don't keep it to the Atlantic bubble, we're really putting our children at risk at a time where they need us to fight for them the most," said Watts.

Parents for Pandemic Education is made up of dozens of parents in the province. Initially, their focus was to push the government to release its back-to-school plan for the fall.

Watts said parents in the group are feeling relieved to have some semblance of a plan, but they're "anxiously" waiting for more details and have growing concerns about bursting the Atlantic bubble.

"By opening up the borders we're basically saying our children are not the priority here," said Watts, who has a daughter going into the second grade in September.

Watts said the potential opening of the borders sends the message that the heath and safety of children in Nova Scotia is no longer the priority. (Submitted by Raven Watts)

Nova Scotia has been doing a good job of keeping the virus at bay, so Watts said it's "incredibly frustrating" the province is considering ways to reopen to the rest of Canada.

"I think we've been so diligent about safety, so why is the push happening now?" she said. "Why aren't we giving our kids a fighting chance? And the families? Parents need to go back to work and communities need to be able to thrive."

Susan Kirkland, the head of the the department of community health and epidemiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said it's a challenging time for parents, especially when our understanding of the virus is constantly changing.

"What we know one day is often different from what we know the next," Kirkland said.

Until recently, Kirkland said it seemed children under 10 were at a lower risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. But she said in the last week, evidence has come out that directly refutes that.

"At the moment, it looks like children are just as capable of transmitting the virus as adults," she said.

Susan Kirkland is the head of the the department of community health and epidemiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax. (Dalhousie University)

From an epidemiology standpoint, Kirkland said she would like the border to stay closed because it gives the province a level of control over the coronavirus.

Kirkland points out the Atlantic region has never had outbreaks on the same scale as other provinces, and even now the recent cases announced in Nova Scotia are related to travel, not community spread.

"When we start to allow movement across Canada, and we're not used to a high level of COVID activity ... it's going to be difficult for us to come to grips with that new reality," she said.

The ways schools open will be critically important, Kirkland said, and Nova Scotians have a collective responsibility to stay vigilant with handwashing, disinfecting surfaces, physical distancing, and wearing masks.

"I do believe we're going to have to be willing to accept a certain level of COVID activity in our community," she said. "But we have to make sure that level does not get out of control."

Premier responds to concerns

In a written statement, the premier said he has heard concerns both from Nova Scotians who want to see the province remain closed, and those who want to open up to the rest of Canada.

"I have said many times that we have to learn to live with COVID," said McNeil's statement. 

He also said there are "many parts" of Canada doing just as well as Nova Scotia when it comes to controlling COVID-19. However, outside of Atlantic and Northern Canada, Manitoba has the lowest number of active cases in the country — 94, as of Tuesday — and cases in that province are on the rise.

"This is not a question of putting the economy before public health — we have come too far to undo all the work of Nova Scotians over the last few months," the statement continued. "We will continue monitoring the epidemiology here and in other provinces as we look at potentially expanding the Atlantic bubble."

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