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Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston fields a question at a COVID-19 briefing in Halifax on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Nova Scotia will keep its mask mandate in place for public schools as it drops the requirement for most other public spaces on Monday.

Officials announced the change Friday, saying it’s in response to advice from a pediatric advisory group that has consulted on health measures for schools throughout the pandemic.

The group of doctors from the IWK Health Centre in Halifax released an open letter this week recommending that students continue to wear masks in school until at least mid-April. A specific end date has not been given.

“Listening to these respected experts, it is clear that the best decision based on today’s information is to keep masking for now,” Premier Tim Houston told reporters.

Houston said that, as previously planned, masks will also remain mandatory in other settings such as hospitals, long-term care homes and jails. “Everywhere else it is strongly recommended that you continue to mask,” Houston added. “You have the tools to make the right decisions.”

Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, said the change of heart for schools coincides with a return next week from March break, when some students may have been exposed to the virus, which is still active in communities. “So it makes sense to have them mask as a way to slow down any potential transmission within that school environment,” said Strang.

The change was announced as the province issued its second weekly report on COVID-19 data after ending its daily updates. The report noted continued community spread of the virus and 15 more deaths. Nova Scotia has reported a total of 232 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began.

Officials said the number of new hospital admissions remains high, with 41 reported between March 9 and March 15 along with 23 discharges. As of Thursday, 38 people were hospitalized due to the virus.

Officials also said 2,888 positive PCR tests were performed at the provincial lab over the course of the week. As of Tuesday, 87.1 per cent of Nova Scotians were considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with two shots, while 63.2 per cent of people 18 and older have received a booster shot.

“The pandemic is not over, which means the need for all of us to keep doing our part isn’t over yet either,” Strang said as he noted the lifting of restrictions on Monday. In addition to the masking requirement, gathering and physical distancing limits will also be discontinued.

Businesses and organizations will be able to resume full operations, while events including festivals, sports and faith ceremonies will be able to fully resume without restrictions.

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