N.S. Teachers Union calling for masks to stick around, even after the province enters Phase 5

Shopping centres across the region were full of students Friday as the rush to gear up for school is on.

Classes in the province begin on Sept. 7.

On her first day of primary, four-year-old Josie Black knows she’ll be wearing a mask. She says it’s hard sometimes but she knows the rules.

“I can take my mask off when I’m eating lunch,” Black said.

Masks will remain mandatory at the start of the school year across Nova Scotia.

However, once the province enters Phase 5 of its COVID-19 reopening plan, masks will be optional.

“We really feel it’s prudent to be slower in relaxing mask mandates,” said Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

"It’s possible we could be relaxing masking a week after school opens and that feels very sudden."

Wozney wants masks to stick around a little longer, citing concerns about the Delta variant and how students under 12 aren’t vaccinated.

“We don’t necessarily have a firm deadline but being cautious and slow to make change has really served us well,” he said.

Following a cabinet meeting Thursday, Nova Scotia’s Education Minister said the province is following advice from Public Health and a pediatric advisory committee.

“We’re very confident in the plans that we currently have in place and we’ll continue to adjust and adapt as needed,” Minister Becky Druhan said.

Due to COVID-19, Tahlia Ali had to learn from afar after receiving a double lung transplant. She said wearing a mask sometimes makes her feel dizzy, so she’ll likely only wear it sometimes once the mandate is lifted.

Mask mandate or not, Ali says she is thrilled to head back to school.

“I’m actually quite excited beause I have spent the last year-and-a-half just constantly doing online school and I kind of struggled with it,” Ali said.

Currently, Phase 5 is scheduled to begin in Nova Scotia on Sept. 15 as long as 75 per cent of the entire population is fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

As of Friday, 71.4 per cent of the population was fully vaccinated against the virus.