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Public Health Guidance

Message from Public Health: Public health measures for January 2022

Schools play a critical role in the wellbeing of children and youth and keeping schools open remains a public health priority.

We greatly appreciate the efforts of staff, students, families, and partners in following public health guidance.

The risk of COVID-19 within a school setting is impacted by transmission of virus in the community; COVID-19 in schools will mirror disease activity in the community. Nova Scotia is changing its response to COVID-19 to respond to the Omicron variant. In schools, this includes adding enhanced public health measures designed to slow the spread of COVID-19, as well as taking into consideration the vaccine program.

When making recommendations, Public Health considers that restrictions aimed at controlling the COVID-19 pandemic also have unintended consequences. Many of these consequences are negative, including social, psychological, and economic impacts on individuals and families, which can disproportionately affect vulnerable populations.

Public Health remains committed to prioritizing safe and healthy in-school learning while balancing the risks associated with COVID-19 and other infectious illnesses against the unintended consequences associated with public health restrictions and school closures.

Highlights

  • The goal for this school year is for students to have a comprehensive in-school experience
  • Vaccination is the most effective way to reduce the risk of COVID-19, however public health measures also play an important role
  • COVID-19 in schools will mirror disease activity in the community
  • Students and staff should follow public health guidance and stay home when they are unwell
  • Enhanced public health measures designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 are being introduced in all schools in January 2022 and contact tracing will no longer occur in school settings

Vaccination

All eligible Nova Scotians are strongly encouraged to become fully vaccinated as soon as possible according to the recommended vaccine schedule, and schedule booster doses when they become eligible.

Core Public Health Measures

Collectively, the core public health measures comprise the layered approach that reduces the risk of transmission of illnesses, including COVID-19.

For January 2022, enhanced measures have been incorporated below.

Schools should consider how these principles can be incorporated into daily operations across all school settings including classrooms, common areas, staff rooms and offices, and during transportation.

Special attention should be paid to larger gatherings and higher risk activities.

  • Encourage timely and full vaccination and boosters for those who are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Support individuals to monitor for symptoms, stay home when sick, and seek testing when indicated.
  • Communicate the importance of using the COVID-19 Daily Checklist and following the Test to Protect program.
  • Non-essential visitors are not permitted. Essential programming should continue.

  • Reinstate indoor cohorting and suspend assemblies and large gatherings.
  • Elementary students should eat with their class/group.
  • Control movement to increase physical distancing and prevent mixing in common areas including cafeterias.
  • Outdoors, spread out within available space and limit mixing of cohorts.

  • Ensure availability of supplies and resources to support hand hygiene and cough and sneeze etiquette.
  • Discourage sharing of food, drinks and personal items such as water bottles and lip gloss.

  • Attention to cleaning and disinfecting, with emphasis on high traffic areas and high touch surfaces.
  • Consider where high touch surfaces can be eliminated, such as using no-touch items (e.g., waste receptacles).

  • Prioritize use of outdoor spaces and attention to ventilation when indoors.
  • Open exterior windows and doors when appropriate.
  • Ensure ventilation (HVAC) systems operate properly, are adjusted appropriately, and are routinely maintained.

  • Maintain indoor masking in school settings. A well-fitting 3 layered non-medical mask or medical mask is recommended.
    • This applies for all ages where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
    • Masks may be removed when eating, drinking, or when engaged in physical activity.
    • Consider how to build in opportunities for mask breaks during the day.
    • Refer to https://novascotia.ca/coronavirus/masks/ for more information on mask wearing.
  • Schools should foster an environment where mask-wearing is accepted and normalized for those who choose to wear masks in situations where it is not required.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE), such as eye protection (e.g., face shields), is not required for general use. Some students have specialized healthcare needs with plans that require the use of PPE. Individual planning is recommended for staff working with these students.

  • Develop plans for symptomatic individuals in school settings, such as prompt separation from others, monitoring, masking, and hand hygiene while awaiting pickup.
  • Support distribution of information and home rapid tests through the Test to Protect program
  • Schools should maintain attendance records and report absenteeism to Public Health

  • The layered approach of enhanced public health measures including the Test to Protect program is designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 in school settings.
  • Families should report absenteeism to their school and may choose to report positive results.
  • Public Health is no longer contact tracing in school settings and schools are not expected to take on contact tracing or issue exposure letters.
  • Maintain flexibility including capacity to support at-home learning, if required.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has also provided updated guidance for Planning for the 2021-2022 school year in the context of COVID-19 vaccination which can be used in conjunction with the guidance provided above.