Mask mandates end in all Atlantic Canadian schools, but health officials still recommend their use

For the first time in a long time, students, teachers and staff in all four Atlantic provinces are no longer required to wear a mask while in public schools.

Mask mandates were lifted in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador on Tuesday. New Brunswick ended its masking requirement in public schools on March 14, following March break.

While some say they're pleased the COVID-19 measure has been lifted, others wish it had remained in place until the end of the school year.

"It feels like we could have kept it on until the end of the school year," one parent told CTV News. "We’re so close that it feels a bit disappointing to have it lifted at this point, so our kids are definitely going to be keeping them on until the end of the school year."

“We’re comfortable with our son going without a mask. We’ve talked about distance and washing hands,” said another parent.

In March, a group of doctors at Halifax's IWK Health Centre successfully lobbied Nova Scotia to keep masking mandatory in public schools when the province previously planned to drop it.

Though that didn't happen this time, doctors are still encouraging students and staff to keep their masks on.

In a tweet Monday, Dr. Andrew Lynk, the pediatrics chair at the IWK Health Centre, said Nova Scotia's health-care system is still strained.

"There are tons of COVID infections around. NS Pediatricians strongly recommend we continue masking till school ends in 4 weeks. Protect yourselves, your classmates & teachers, your parents & family," wrote Lynk on Twitter.

Lynk told CTV News staffing issues are also still a problem.

"Our IWK emergency department and inpatient wards are experiencing extremely high volumes, and we still have staffing challenges because of COVID. Our group is concerned about the resulting impact on our pediatric health-care system," he said.

To NS students, parents, teachers & staff. There are tons of CoVID infections around. NS Pediatricians strongly recommend we continue masking till school ends in 4 weeks. Protect yourselves, your classmates & teachers, your parents & family. Our healthcare system is strained.

— Andrew Lynk (@andrewlynk) May 24, 2022

The president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union told CTV News Monday the membership is split on the issue.

"I think there's concerns with four or five weeks left in the school year, are we headed for a spot where potentially some schools are going to have to close because we're going to see an uptick in cases?" asked Wozney. "We simply can't deal with that extra pressure."

He also raised concerns that the weakened system might break.

"We were already in the middle of a substitute teacher crisis before Omicron and that's just been made worse. So, I think we're worried. Masking, really, has been the only layer of real protection in schools since November and we’ve barely been able to keep the doors open on a day-to-day basis," said Wozney Monday.

Health officials in all four Atlantic provinces still strongly recommend masking in public spaces, although it's not mandatory.