When students at public schools across Nova Scotia heard the bell for the long weekend, it marked the end of mandatory masking in classrooms.
The last province to lift the mask mandate in schools, masking will become both voluntary and strongly encouraged when classes resume on Tuesday, according to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
The decision to lift the mask mandate in schools comes one month before the end of the school year and as Nova Scotia reports what is tied as the deadliest week of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s a decision that caught infectious disease expert Dr. Lisa Barrett by surprise.
In an interview with CityNews Halifax, Barrett warned a premature lift to mask mandates could jeopardize summer plans if another wave of COVID-19 begins.
"I think that people were setting up to have a good goin’ start to their summer. This may delay things a bit," she said. "It may actually slow things down in terms of people's plans and travel plans and the like if we have a whole bunch of new infections just as people are about to get on airplanes to go places for the summer."
For Barrett, another major concern about lifting the mask mandate in classrooms while hospitalizations for COVID-19 remain high is peer pressure. She stressed the need to avoid using terms like "back to normal" and encouraged tolerance in "understanding that not everyone’s situation is the same."
“Some people may live with vulnerable people. Some people may be in family units where people have illnesses, and they may choose to wear masks,” she said. “That's a really good message all the way around for kids to be taught that people do different things in different ways that may be ‘normal’ to them.”
Barrett is encouraging families who have children in schools to take extra caution when visiting people who are older, more vulnerable, or in long-term care to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In a press release issued Thursday, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Becky Druhan said students, staff, volunteers, and visitors will all be “supported” in their decision to wear masks in schools.
“As warmer weather approaches in June and classes can spend more time outdoors, and with Nova Scotia’s health data and school attendance data improving, Minister Druhan said now is the time to make masks optional in schools,” Druhan said in the release, noting the provincial government will continue to supply masks and hand sanitizer in classrooms.”