When the province walked back the plan to implement Phase 5 of their reopening plan this week, it meant mandatory masking in Nova Scotia schools wouldn't end on Sept. 20 after all.
The decision comes after an influx of COVID-19 cases in the days leading up to the beginning of Phase 5. With community spread in both Northern Zone and Central Zone, Phase 4 will remain in place until Oct. 4, when the province's proof of vaccination program is slated to begin.
Paul Wozney, President of the Nova Scotia Teachers' Union, believes remaining in Phase 4 is the right choice for the time being, particularly for the two-thirds of students who remain ineligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
"We've been vocal that the back to school plan doesn't contain a whole lot of protections," Wozney told News 95.7.
He added that while there were some positives to schools looking and feeling more like before the pandemic, ultimately, schools remain the largest single gathering of unvaccinated people in the province on a daily basis.
"Most people understand ventilation in schools ranges from adequate to abysmal, and has long before we were talking about the pandemic," Wozney said, noting class sizes are too large to safely gather without mandatory masking.
Wozney is pleased that since the school year began on Sept 7, the provincial government and public health have actively adjusted the back to school plan on two occasions, differing from the Liberals who kept consistent guidelines despite varying epidemiology.
On the other hand, schools no longer have "isolation rooms" like in 2020-21, where students can safely wait apart from others to be picked up by a parent or guardian.
Additionally, school cases are no longer being flagged at COVID-19 briefings, Wozney said, noting that government and public health have dropped consistent protocols that "really lent to a lot of public confidence in the school system."
Mandatory masking will remain in schools for an additional week after the implementation of Phase 5, according to Wozney, based on public health guidelines issued at the province's weekly COVID-19 briefing. Students and staff will continue masking until Oct. 12.