Nova Scotia

Students coming to N.S. from outside Atlantic bubble must get COVID-19 test

With a flood of post-secondary students expected to enter Nova Scotia in the coming weeks, Premier Stephen McNeil has announced some new measures. In addition to self-isolating for 14 days, every student from outside the Atlantic bubble will have to be tested three times for COVID-19.

Students must self-isolate, get tested 3 times before attending in-person classes

Premier Stephen McNeil is shown during the announcement on Thursday. (CBC)

Post-secondary students coming to Nova Scotia from outside the Atlantic bubble will need to get tested for COVID-19 in addition to self-isolating for 14 days, Premier Stephen McNeil announced Thursday.

McNeil said the students will be tested three times within their self-isolation period.

"If students are asymptomatic, these tests should help us detect COVID," he said. "This will also enable institutions and Public Health to respond quickly if the virus is found."

This measure applies to students living in residence and within the larger community. 

Even with a negative result, the students will still be required to complete their 14-day isolation period. Students from inside the Atlantic bubble will only need to self-isolate if they've been outside the bubble within the last 14 days.

"This is an important moment in our province," he said. "We have to be realistic. COVID is not going away. But our hope is that our isolation plan and our testing strategy will [prevent] a major spike in cases."

McNeil said every campus will have a place for students to get tested and the province has the capacity to do these extra tests. 

McNeil said every campus will have a place for students to get tested for COVID-19. (Nova Scotia Health Authority)

He also said the province has improved tracking for everyone entering Nova Scotia from outside Atlantic Canada.

"Not just the students, but everyone," said McNeil. "The new form will allow for better tracking, and a digital check-in will soon replace phone calls to ensure people are self-isolating."

McNeil urged post-secondary students to continue following public health protocols, such as physical distancing, regular handwashing and wearing a mask in public places.

Health Department spokesperson Marla MacInnis said in an email that people will be allowed to go directly to COVID-19 testing sites while in self-isolation, as long as they stay at least six feet away from people and do not make any stops along the way.

She said people should not take a bus or ferry to the testing site, but they can walk, bike or take a taxi.

Masks are mandatory in taxis and other indoor public spaces. She also said transportation may be arranged, depending on the circumstances.

Students Nova Scotia on board with new measure

Clancy McDaniel, the executive director of Students Nova Scotia, says this new measure is an "excellent step to be taking."

While some institutions are pivoting to largely online classes, McDaniel said students are still coming back to the province for all kinds of reasons.

"Myself, I'm from rural Cape Breton. If I was forced to take classes online, I would have a difficult time because of my internet access," she said.

"So we know that students are returning, and we think that, by providing mandatory and free testing for all students, regardless of background, hopefully we will be able to catch and prevent any potential community spread of COVID-19."

Clancy McDaniel is the executive director of Students Nova Scotia, the province's largest student advocacy organization. (CBC)

McDaniel said she's especially glad the tests will be free for all students, even international students. She noted many international students are not eligible for MSI, which means they belong to private health-care plans provided by the institution itself.

But she said those can be cumbersome, and can vary in terms of what they actually cover and what paperwork needs to be done in advance.

"We were worried that [potential costs] might deter people from getting tested, and we also know that there are potential asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 as well," she said. "And by providing testing for all, we have the ability to catch those cases as well."

While students will be allowed to leave self-isolation for testing, Clancy said providing in-residence testing would be ideal to avoid overcrowding at testing stations.

"It's definitely a big question, so we look forward to working with government to find some solutions for that," she said.

Universities and the Nova Scotia Community College are contacting their students to tell them the requirements and the process for getting tested, according to the province. Each school's reopening plan can be found on its website.

With files from Paul Withers