When Phase 3 kicks in on Monday, masks will continue to be mandatory in the classroom.
At a Friday COVID-19 briefing, Premier Tim Houston said this will be the case until mid-April.
As of March 21, most province-wide COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted, including gathering limits, physical distancing and mandatory masking. Originally that also applied to classrooms.
However, Houston said the plan changed after the Nova Scotia Pediatric Pandemic Advisory Group -- comprised of eight leading pediatric doctors -- penned an open letter asking for masks to continue to be worn in the school setting once students return from March Break.
The group cited a number of reasons why, including the high number of hospitalizations, youth vaccination rates, shortages of health-care staff and evidence suggesting 3-ply masks reduce risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools.
"Students are used to wearing masks, and there is no clear evidence they cause meaningful harm," the group stated,
"Finally, it is important to ensure that students are not bullied about whether they do or do not wear a mask," it added.
Houston said based on the opinion of these experts, the best decision is to keep mandatory masking in the classroom for now.
"So, mandatory masking remains in schools, hospitals, long-term care homes and jails, congregate settings," the premier explained. "Everywhere else, it is strongly recommended that you continue to mask."
The province's chief medical officer of health said it's a good idea to keep wearing them in public places, especially indoors where physical distancing isn't possible.
"And don't be surprised if some locations decide that they still want you to wear your mask," Dr. Robert Strang said. "Any business or organization can make the policy decision for themselves requiring people to be masked."
"COVID is still around us, and even though your risk may not be particularly high, the risk of people around you ... may still be very high."
Effective 12:01 a.m. Monday, March 21:
- there will be no gathering limits or capacity limits, but people should still keep their social groups small and consistent and make careful choices about the gatherings they attend
- physical distance will no longer be required between individuals and groups, although distancing is still recommended
- masks will no longer be required, but wearing one in indoor public places or crowded outdoor places is strongly recommended
- businesses and organizations across all sectors can resume full operations with no mandatory public health restrictions
- special events including festivals, sports, performances, meetings, training and faith ceremonies can resume in full.
In public schools, staff and students will follow the updated guidance in the Back to School Plan, including the following:
- masking for staff, students and visitors remains in place for a few more weeks during school hours and on school buses
- visitors and spectators will need to wear masks in schools during school instructional hours for a few more weeks
- staff and students are asked to follow core public health measures such as getting vaccinated if eligible, staying home if feeling unwell, following the COVID-19 daily checklist, washing and sanitizing hands frequently
- music, band, arts and sports in schools can resume in full
- tournaments, concerts and extracurricular activities are permitted
- planning for graduation can proceed.
In long-term care facilities:
- residents can have five visitors at a time if the facility can accommodate them
- larger groups of visitors are permitted for special occasions like a resident's birthday or anniversary if the facility can accommodate them
- visitors need to wear a mask and be fully vaccinated, except for end-of-life visits
- regardless of vaccination status, residents can leave the facility for any reason, including overnight visits with family.
The Nova Scotia Health Authority and IWK Health Centre will continue with mask requirements and visitor restrictions.