Nova Scotia has officially ended its state of emergency — two years after it was declared — and lifted most COVID-19 restrictions.
During an interview with Global News Morning on Monday, Dr. Robert Strang, the chief medical officer of health for the province, called it “an important transition.”
Nova Scotia lifts mask mandate as health officials warn of continued COVID 19 threat
“We’re at a point where because of the hard work of all Nova Scotians and the strong layer of protection we have from vaccine mostly — and for some people with recent infection — we are well protected against severe disease right now, so we can lift these restrictions,” he said.
“But by no means (does that mean) that the pandemic is over. We still have a lot of viruses around.”
Nova Scotia’s top doc calls protest outside home ‘concerning’ as province lifts most COVID-19 measures
Protest outside Dr. Strang’s home
A small protest gathered outside Strang’s home Sunday evening, which was live-streamed on social media by the group. Homemade signs had messages including “Unmask Our Children” and “Strangled.”
Strang said he was thankful RCMP were on scene, and called the protest “concerning.”
“It was quite a disturbing night and you know, they were keeping us up till … I was up till well after 2 o’clock with prank phone calls and things like that,” he said.
“Unwelcome behavior that I know … the vast majority of Nova Scotians do not support that at all.”
During the live-stream, Strang briefly addressed the group. Members of the protest later told an RCMP officer they wanted to talk to Strang about the decision to keep masking in public schools.
Schools were originally included in the lifting of restrictions. However, the province reversed its decision last week and said students and staff would indeed have to keep masking “for a few more weeks” when they returned from March Break on Monday.
The decision came after an open letter issued by a group of eight pediatric doctors in the province, which urged parents and students to keep wearing masks in schools.
“The lifting of mandated pandemic measures has been a welcome shift for many in our province. However, although case counts and hospitalizations are slowly declining, we acknowledge that they do remain high,” read the letter from the Nova Scotia Pediatric Pandemic Advisory Group.
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COVID-19 – NS changes course, will keep masks in schools a few more weeks
Strang agreed the epidemiology supported keeping masks in schools.
“We were hopeful to be able to allow masking to come off in schools,” he said.
“Some people were saying that we, you know, we lied to kids. That’s not true. Everything we do, we say, well, it’s based on the epidemiology.”
Strang said case numbers had “gone back up” in the middle of last week and “were not coming back down again.” He added there are still several hundred cases a day.
“This is all about keeping the masking for a few more weeks to slow down and decrease the spread of the virus within the school environment. It’s not because kids are at a high risk for severe disease, but it’s the optimum place for them to be is in class in-person learning,” he said.
“And if you have lots of kids are sick, teachers are sick, that it affects that ability.”
In an interview Monday, Nova Scotia Teachers Union President Paul Wozney was critical of the protesters’ actions — calling it “cowardly and disgusting.”
“It’s just completely off limits,” said Wozney.
“Dr. Strang has become a public figure by virtue of his highly visible role. But that doesn’t give anyone the right to target his home.”
Sunday wasn’t the first time protesters have shown up outside Strang’s house. Another protest took place in September 2021, in response to proof of vaccination policies.
Premier Tim Houston put the protesters on blast then, and had a similar message this time.
“I don’t know that I have a strong enough word to really express my emotions,” he said.
“To protest at his home where he lives, but also where his family lives, is completely inappropriate.”
RCMP said no arrests were made and the scene was cleared by 3:30 am
“Members of the public have a right to assemble freely and safely for protests, and everyone else also has a right to safety within the community,” said Nova Scotia RCMP spokesperson Const. William Tremblay.
‘It’s the right thing to do’
Strang said while some people are disappointed with the province’s decision, he has also spoken to many people who have thanked him and said they are comfortable continuing to wear masks.
“Masking is a fairly straightforward measure to keep your kids safe, but also to keep other kids around them safe as well.”
In fact, Strang repeated the assertion that the general public should keep wearing masks in indoor public spaces for the next while.
He said the province will continue to watch for indicators about the amount of virus out in the community, in the weeks after the lifting of restrictions.
Those indicators include the number of positive results from PCR tests, the number of hospitalizations and the impact on the health-care system. He said, if necessary, health officials would bring forward recommendations to “course correct our actions” to get things “under the necessary level of control.”
In the meantime, he asked people to wear masks, stay home if unwell, and to keep up with their vaccinations.
“We should still be wearing masking through April. Not because we have to, but because it’s the right thing to do to keep everybody: ourselves safe, and those around us safe,” he said.
“So it’s a matter of still being cautious, still be very respectful of this pandemic virus that surrounds us.”
— With files from Graeme Benjamin
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