Nova Scotia

Nova Scotians should be prepared for schools to remain closed beyond April 3

Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health says public health is in daily contact with the provincial government to re-evaluate whether schools and daycares will remain closed beyond the two-week period.

'We have to be very strict, but we will be monitoring this closely,' says chief medical officer

Nova Scotia's public schools are currently closed until April 3, but that could be extended. (CBC)

Nova Scotians should be prepared for the likelihood that schools and daycares will remain closed beyond April 3, the province's chief medical officer said Monday.

All of the province's public schools and licensed daycares were ordered closed for two weeks following March Break to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, a decision the province said it would reassess.

Currently, 41 cases have been confirmed in Nova Scotia after 13 new cases were reported on Monday. The province is now under a state of emergency.

"I just need to signal to people that this is in all likelihood not just a two-week period. It's longer than that," Dr. Robert Strang told CBC's Information Morning.

"I fully expect this is a six to eight-week period of time that we have to be very strict, but we will be monitoring this closely."

Strang said public health is looking at how other provinces and countries have tried to contain the novel coronavirus. He said there's evidence second and third waves of the virus can move through communities.

"So even if this [a] first wave, we're able to relax a bit, [but] this is a long-term issue that we have to deal with," he said.

It's unclear what learning will look like for students in the weeks ahead.

NSTU still waiting on plan

Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, said the union was meeting with representatives from the Department of Education and Early Childhood on Monday to talk about a plan for teachers and students going forward.

"For now, there's no plan," he said. "It has not been conveyed by [the Education Department] about what we're going to do to support students through these next couple of weeks."

He said some teachers returned to their classrooms on Monday to pick up teaching materials, but he also urged educators to wait and see what the plan is before they dive back into lessons.

It's not as simple as students doing all their coursework online because not every family has access to reliable internet, Wozney said.

"We want to be careful that our approach supports all students, and not just some," he said.

'It's going to be hard,' says daycare operator

Meanwhile, one daycare operator isn't surprised that schools and daycares could remain closed for much longer than the next two weeks.

"I definitely think it's going to be hard," said Donna Buckland, owner and operator of Giant Steps Children's Centre in Upper Tantallon, N.S. "Daycare in Nova Scotia is already struggling with lack of staffing and things like that with pre-primary."

Giant Steps has about 60 staff members who work in four locations. Buckland said they're all still getting paid even though the daycares are no longer charging parents.

Donna Buckland is executive director of the Giant Steps Children's Centre. She says she isn't surprised that daycares like hers may be closed for much longer than the next two weeks. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

She said parents were given a credit they can use to cover their fees once their kids return.

Giant Steps also supports several family home daycares. Buckland said those daycares received money from the province on Friday to cover the loss of parent fees for the next two weeks, but larger centres are still waiting for money.

"I'm hoping that we'll hear something this week," Buckland said. "I know they've been busy trying to figure it out, and I have confidence in the government."

Early childhood educators might be working from home, but Buckland said they're still trying to help families. She said staff have been reading to kids over video and the centre's music teacher also videotapes her lessons to share with families.

Premier Stephen McNeil said he'll be working with public health over the next week or so to re-evaluate the decision to reopen schools on April 6.

"Right now, Dr. Strang is dealing day-to-day with trying to save people's lives," McNeil told Information Morning. "We'll give people plenty [of] notice about child care."


With files from CBC's Information Morning and Preston Mulligan