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Nova Scotia committee recommends more mask wearing in courtrooms

Monday, November 23, 2020 @ 4:18 PM | By Terry Davidson

A COVID-19 court recovery committee in Nova Scotia is calling for increased mask wearing in courtrooms following the federal government’s warning of the “aerosol transmission” of the virus.

According to a Nov. 19 notice from Nova Scotia Judiciary, the recommendation from the All Courts Recovery Committee comes after a “recent update from the Public Health Agency of Canada regarding the possible aerosol transmission of COVID-19 in some circumstances,” which is “informed” by advice by the province’s chief medical officer.

“Presiding judges continue to have discretion on the use of masks based on the individual circumstances of the courtroom, the case, and the parties involved,” states the notice. “Judges will give direction on masking in their individual courtrooms at the beginning of the proceedings. Such direction may change depending on the circumstances present on any given day (i.e. if an exempt participant from outside Atlantic Canada is attending in person, everyone may be required to mask for the entirety of the proceeding).”

A government of Canada webpage dated Nov. 5 and titled COVID-19: Main modes of transmission states the virus can be transmitted via “respiratory droplets and aerosols created when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, shouts, or talks.”

“The droplets vary in size from large droplets that fall to the ground rapidly (within seconds or minutes) near the infected person, to smaller droplets, sometimes called aerosols, which linger in the air under some circumstances,” it states, going on to note that the “relative infectiousness of droplets of different sizes is not clear.

“Infectious droplets or aerosols may come into direct contact with the mucous membranes of another person’s nose, mouth or eyes, or they may be inhaled into their nose, mouth, airways and lungs. The virus may also spread when a person touches another person (i.e., a handshake) or a surface or an object … that has the virus on it, and then touches their mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands.”

It states that reports of “outbreaks in settings with poor ventilation suggest that infectious aerosols were suspended in the air and that people inhaled the virus” and that transmission “may have been facilitated by certain environmental conditions, such as re-circulated air.”

As of July 6, all visitors entering Nova Scotia’s courthouses must wear a non-medical mask in all common areas, including entrance lobbies, elevators, interview rooms and waiting areas.

Established in May and originally called the COVID-19 Court Recovery Committee, the All Courts Recovery Committee is made up of a judge from each court, as well as officials from Nova Scotia’s Department of Justice Court Services Division.

Representing all levels of court in the province, the committee’s mission is “to identify, assess and mitigate potential risks associated with the coronavirus as they relate to court proceedings.”

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