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Short-staffed and with sick students, Halifax schools close for two weeks

The government will re-assess by May 7.

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In the past seven days, there have been 30 cases connected to schools in Nova Scotia. That’s more than in the previous five months, so a junior high math student could figure out there’s a growing COVID-19 problem in the school system. 

Sure enough, with 323 active cases in the province, most of those—266 to be exact—in the Central zone, today the government made the decision to shut down all Halifax Regional Centre for Education schools. There are also eight CSAP schools effected, and six schools outside the HRCE but still within the recently-imposed lockdown will close too.

Schools will close tomorrow, Tuesday, April 27, and online learning will pick up for youth on Thursday, April 29. “I wish I had some good news to share today, but our cases continue to climb,” said premier Iain Rankin at a Monday press conference.

The province’s press release about the shutdown promises an update by May 7 on when—or if—schools will reopen, giving students at least nine school days out of the classroom. “Keeping kids in school is one of our key priorities in our COVID response,” said top doc Robert Strang at the press conference, “but also recognizing that there may be times that we can no longer do that.”

However, Strang said that date is not carved in stone. “Like everything, we always watch the epidemiology and sometimes we may need to extend if necessary.”

A large part of this decision is because dozens of teachers and staff are isolating, and the already-stressed education system is facing a staffing shortage. “We have a number of teachers and staff either diagnosed with COVID or isolating because of close contacts,” says Rankin.

But the premier, when asked, said that he couldn’t guarantee paid time off for all the parents who would now be at home with their children. “There are supports in place, the federal government has a specific sick benefit in place if people are staying home and missing work because of it,” he said, but added that he encouraged employers to let staff work from home.

The premier said he hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but with more young people being effected by the third wave—including a person in their 20s in the ICU in Halifax—it was a necessary step: “This is a wakeup call to our younger population, you are not invincible.” Strang echoed this sentiment, adding, “COVID-19 can have devastating effects for anyone, and the variants do not discriminate by age.”

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