New Brunswick

Cardy's COVID-19 measures 'drastic,' causing confusion, but party stands behind him

Medical experts say Education Minister Dominic Cardy’s approach to COVID-19 management is overly-cautious and has caused confusion, but only time will tell if it’s unnecessary.

'If the minister of education wants to err on the side of caution ... well then good on him': health minister

Education minister Dominic Cardy says students who traveled internationally should not come to school for 14 days. (CBC News file photo)

Medical experts say Education Minister Dominic Cardy's approach to COVID-19 management is overly-cautious and has caused confusion, but only time will tell if it's unnecessary.

Cardy has ordered anyone who has traveled internationally, including to the U.S. but excluding the state of Maine, not to go into a New Brunswick school or school facility.

On Wednesday, Fredericton High School sent nine students home because of their travel history.

The Department of Health maintains people should only self-isolate if they've returned from hot-zone countries, or if they begin experiencing symptoms like a dry cough and fever. It added one caveat Wednesday: anyone who has travelled internationally in the past 14 days should not visit hospitals or nursing homes.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer, announced the province's first presumptive case of the virus Wednesday. (Photo: CBC News)

New Brunswick also announced its first presumptive case Wednesday - a woman between 50 and 60 who had recently travelled to France.

Dr. Rama Nair, professor of epidemiology and community medicine at the University of Ottawa, said there isn't much scientific evidence supporting the necessity of a 14-day exclusion for people who were not in at-risk countries - Iran, Italy and Hubei province of China.

"I think [Cardy] is being too cautious," he said.

However, Nair said with the spread of the disease being unpredictable, it's not yet clear if these measures are unreasonable.

"The thing is we don't know much about the disease when it passes on. So it's actually a cautious approach - probably good in the long run, but also quite drastic."

Cardy has said he only has the power over education issues, and has no power to stop students from going to malls, concerts or grocery stores. 

Causing confusion

The president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, Dr. Chris Goodyear, says physicians are concerned Cardy's measures are "not rooted in evidence-based public health policy."

"It has caused confusion and concern among parents, students, educators, and health-care providers and risks placing a strain on an already fragile health system," he said in a statement. 

A point of confusion has been if students could still go to school even if their parents had travelled internationally. 

Cardy said if only parents travelled, their children can still go to school.

However, Nair said the only way this could be effective at stopping potential spread is if parents who've come back to Canada stopped physically interacting with their children and effectively self-isolated by living in separate rooms.

One Rothesay family took this route earlier this week, putting their daughter, who'd returned from Europe, in a different house.

But Cardy has not required self-isolation. In fact, it's not in his purview. When asked how families can make sense of  restrictions on members of the same household, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Russell said Cardy had already provided clarity: If parents travelled, kids can still go to school.

On the political playing field

During Wednesday morning's question period, the opposition asked the Health Minister Ted Flemming if he agrees with the direction Cardy has taken.

Flemming said he trusts Russell and what direction she has been giving, but he also doesn't see fault in Cardy's position.

"If the minister of education wants to err on the side of caution ... well then good on him," Flemming said.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says he respect's Dominic Cardy's authority over all education matters. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

In a scrum, Premier Blaine Higgs said due to Cardy's "sense of urgency … we're kind of ahead of the game here."

"You don't want to be too far ahead but we don't want to have people panic either," he said. "It has ramped up the intensity for us … I certainly don't condemn him for that, I condone him for that."

Affected students

The Francophone North-East school district says to date, 163 students and 55 staff members have been affected by the measures in place.

Francophone South School District Superintendent Monique Boudreau said the directive for travellers to stay home affects 250 students, 37 teachers or principals, and 34 other staff.

Judy Cole, spokesperson for Anglophone West School District, said school administration have been meeting and calling parents to verify the students' travel and explain the restrictions. Those parents confirmed their kids' travel history, causing the nine FHS students to be sent home.

Speaking 'with one voice'

Dr. Karina Top, Infectious Diseases expert at the IWK Health Centre, said she can't speak to the specifics of the New Brunswick situation, but "at this critical time, it is important that government representatives speak with one voice," she said.

Having one uniform response to this healthcare issue will ensure "everyone understands the situation and what they need to do, and to avoid confusion."


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