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Citing improving data on the number of new COVID-19 cases in the province, Nova Scotia’s education minister on Thursday said the mask mandate for public schools would be lifted next week.

The announcement came as the province released new data indicating a continuing decline in the number of new infections and hospitalizations, along with 24 new deaths attributed to novel coronavirus over the past week.

Masks will become optional in schools starting Tuesday, Education Minister Becky Druhan said following a cabinet meeting, adding that with warmer weather and with COVID-19 data improving, it was time to end the mandate.

“It’s been a balance all along and we’ve seen with the measures we’ve had in place over the last number of weeks that (school) attendance is increasing and absenteeism is decreasing,” she said.

The minister said masks are still recommended and students and staff who choose to wear them will be supported. She said the change means that all provinces in Canada have removed their school mask mandates.

Nova Scotia lifted masking requirements for most public places on March 21, but the health order was maintained in schools, health-care facilities and in long-term care and other congregate centres. The government had planned to lift the masking order for schools in mid-April, but Druhan extended it until the Victoria Day long weekend because the province was in the midst of a COVID-19 wave.

“This (change) is a decision of the school system,” Druhan said. “Public Health is no longer requiring masking within schools and we are in line with that.”

The weekly update released Thursday cited 2,513 new PCR-confirmed cases for the period ending May 16 – a drop from 3,118 new infections identified the previous week. There were also 59 new hospitalizations due to the disease, a figure down six from the previous week.

However, the 24 deaths recorded were six more than the 18 identified in the previous report.

Nova Scotia’s health authority said Thursday that 220 health staff were off work due to COVID-19, compared with 253 the week before.

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