N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Province explores how to bring government employees back to the office
Number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick remains at 118 for 5th day in a row
- Province looks at ways to bring government employees back to the office
- No new cases of COVID-19 after 5 days
- Province to announce recovery plan in 'coming days'
- Childcare plays a crucial factor in recovery plan
- Employees don't want to go back to work
- Province has a hard time tracking details from federal announcements
- Removal of the 30-day limit on prescription drugs
- Life won't go back to normal once virus is gone, Ontario epidemiologist says
- UNB nursing students graduate early to help fight COVID-19
- Newcomers struggle for groceries, medication in a pandemic
- Golf industry could take a hit from COVID-19
- What to do if you have symptoms
The province is looking at ways to allow government employees to return to work in coming weeks, Premier Blaine Higgs says.
Many public and private-sector employees in New Brunswick were ordered to work from home, starting early last month because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
"The criteria of returning to work, always must be that we can follow the rules and regulations as outlined by Public Health," Higgs said during Thursday's news conference to update the public on the outbreak.
"We can find all kinds of innovative ways in government, in other businesses throughout the province. But the public health rules have to be part of that solution until we find a vaccine.
Higgs said he's looking at what government learned over the last two months with employees working at home and how it can do things differently. Private companies are likely also analyzing the experience.
Asked whether he would recommend employees working at home be allowed to choose whether to continue doing so, he suggested it would be difficult to make such a universal recommendation.
"There could be a combination there, for sure, and I expect every company is doing the same thing."
After the COVID-19 outbreak, Higgs said, he expects more people will be working from home and more companies will try to accommodate them.
"I think companies will look at this very seriously going forward."
Here's a roundup of other developments.
No new cases of COVID-19 after 5 days
Thursday marked the fifth day in a row of no new cases of COVID-19.
The total number of cases recorded in New Brunswick is 118 and the number of active cases is 14.
To date, 104 people have recovered from COVID-19. There are five patients hospitalized, and one of them is in an intensive care unit.
New Brunswick has conducted 473 tests in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of tests to 12,014.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, said the results have been "heartening."
"The next phase of the struggle to contain COVID-19 will soon begin," Russell said.
Russell said as the restrictions are slowly loosened she asks New Brunswickers to continue to stay at home "as much as you can," and maintain physical distancing of at least two metres.
"These are all elements of our new normal," she said.
Province to announce recovery plan in 'coming days'
Premier Blaine Higgs said he will share the province's recovery plan "in the coming days."
Higgs said the province will outline a series of phases similar to Saskatchewan's plan, where different levels of services are to begin to reopen while physical distancing is maintained, and there is a limit on how many people can gather at once.
"There's two factors. One is in relation to allowing people to get back to their normal way of life in the new norm … and then the phase of, how businesses recover and the economy," Higgs said.
Dr. Jennifer Russell said that once the recovery plan begins, the province will be reviewing the number of cases constantly and changing measures depending on what it sees.
"There could be several waves," the chief medical health officer said.
If Public Health sees more community transmission, for example, stricter measures will have to be reinstated.
Child care a crucial factor in recovery plan
Premier Blaine Higgs said the availability of child care is an important part of the recovery plan.
"As we restart companies and people return to work there has be child care spaces available."
The government ordered daycares and early learning centres to close March 16, even before it declared a state of emergency. Only centres serving the children of essential workers could stay open.
Now, as businesses prepare to restart, some of their employees will have to find care for their kids again.
But Higgs said the province has reached out to private operators across New Brunswick and has received an "overwhelming response" from centres that want to reopen while meeting the requirements of Public Health.
Details are expected soon.
Employees don't want to go back to work
Premier Blaine Higgs says he's heard from some business owners who want to reopen but have workers who don't want to return because they get more money from the federal government staying home.
He suggested all the ramifications of the federal CERB program may not have been thought through, creating a problem for business owners.
But he said employers can't just keep jobs open for people who aren't ready to work yet.
"The employer doesn't have an obligation to hold a position because someone chooses not to return back to work because they've got a federal program that helps them stay home."
If an employer can provide a workplace and conditions that meet Public Health's standards, then employees have to return to work if they want to keep their jobs.
Employees who are concerned about safety can express that, and WorkSafeNB will investigate.
Higgs said the federal funding is a short-term fix for everyone. But it's important for New Brunswickers who can return to work, to do so and rebuild the economy.
"There are jobs coming and we need your help," Higgs said.
Province has a hard time tracking details from federal announcements
Premier Blaine Higgs expressed a little frustration Thursday with federal announcements made without details or opportunities for provinces to offer their own insights before decisions affecting them are made.
He said the premiers have asked to be let in on decisions beforehand.
"Then we would be in a position to discuss … what this should look like in relation to how it impacts New Brunswick, in my case."
Since the outbreak started in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has provided daily updates. Some of his news includes funding announcements, such as the $1.1 billion strategy for medical research to fight COVID-19, which was announced Thursday.
Higgs said he'll have to find out more details behind the latest announcement because he wants New Brunswickers to be involved.
Higgs said he learns about federal funding the same time as the rest of Canada, which can be problematic.
"When we get under the hood and look at the details in all these announcements. It's one thing to get the announcement, it's very much another to get the details of what [it actually means]."
Earlier he expressed a similar concern over the lack of details about a planned federal pay boost for some essential workers. New Brunswick has been trying to figure out which workers could be eligible.
30-day limit on prescription refills scrapped
The 30-day limit on prescription drugs will be eliminated for drugs where shortages do not exist starting Friday.
In some cases, the limit had resulted in people paying additional dispensing fees and co-payments.
The province will create a working group that will identify those drugs that could experience a shortage and put in place a 30-day supply limit if necessary in order to protect the supply.
Life won't go back to normal once virus is gone, epidemiologist says
Ontario epidemiologist Colin Furness says COVID-19 might be on the verge of disappearing in New Brunswick, but that doesn't mean life can go back to normal.
"It seems to be pretty much done as far as New Brunswick is concerned," said Furness, infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto.
But many provinces across Canada don't yet have the virus under control.
To date, there are close to 21,000 confirmed cases of COVID‑19 in Quebec. In neighbouring Nova Scotia, there are close to 800 cases of COVID-19 and in the state of Maine, there are more than 900.
This means New Brunswick will have to continue to take a cautious approach, especially once the province eases up on its emergency measures, which could be as early as the first week of May.
"The moment we let our guard down, more cases are going to start walking into the province, driving into the province, flying into the province," said Furness.
Furness said China saw many days without new cases, started to open up travel, only to see new cases because of that travel.
"How are we going to manage travel? That's a national conversation that hasn't happened yet."
UNB nursing students graduate early to help fight COVID-19
A total of 92 fourth-year nursing students from the University of New Brunswick's Saint John and Fredericton campuses, graduated early this year to help fight against COVID-19.
The Nursing Association of New Brunswick has provided these graduates with a temporary licence, meaning they can be immediately hired to work in the health-care system.
"We are extremely proud of our nursing graduates who have joined healthcare workers on the front lines to assist in keeping New Brunswickers safe during this crisis," Dr. Paul Mazerolle, president and vice-chancellor of the University of New Brunswick, said in a news release.
Because of the pandemic, university campuses in New Brunswick were effectively closed, operating under essential services only.
However, students continued to learn online. For nursing, components of clinical learning were delivered virtually.
UNB is in discussions with the province about what kind of supplies it can offer at this time, including gloves, goggles, masks, face shields, gowns and alcohols.
City of Fredericton to resume parking fees in coming days
The City of Fredericton will reinstate parking fees for parking meters, as well as municipal lots and parking garages starting Monday.
City staff involved in parking operations will follow all COVID-19 safety protocols and ensure parking equipment like pay stations are cleaned frequently.
The parking fees were suspended on March 20.
To avoid contact with parking meters or pays station equipment, the public can also download the HotSpot app and pay for their parking that way.
Efforts are also underway to reintroduce monthly parking passes to city parking facilities starting next month.
Newcomers struggle for groceries, medication in pandemic
The Multicultural Association of Greater Moncton is calling on residents to support newcomers who are struggling during the pandemic.
Myriam Mekni, executive director of the association, said the COVID-19 outbreak has been challenging for newcomers on many different levels.
"It's a really difficult time for them," she said. "Especially for the reason they are newcomers to the region."
Some newcomers don't have enough money for food and medication or have no access to transportation, while others who only recently arrived had to go into quarantine and were unable to leave home.
"They were alone here."
Mekni said international students are also struggling, and are trying to figure out what kind of funding they can receive from the federal and provincial governments.
"They really had a hard time to navigate this. Not just financially, even on a mental health level."
Mekni said her team of volunteers started out as a group of nine, but has expanded to 20 people delivering food.
She said the association is looking for financial help for its food program, a small vehicle to transport food and money for craft supplies for parents to entertain their children.
"We don't know how long this is going to be."
Golf industry could take a hit from COVID-19
Golf courses in New Brunswick are trying to find ways to maintain physical distancing once businesses start opening up again.
Wade LePage, manager of golf operations at the Covered Bridge Golf and Country Club in Hartland, expects to see clarification in the next 10 days about when and how the province will let courses like his resume operations.
LePage has been looking at other jurisdictions, including British Columbia, which have kept courses open with restrictions.
"We've kind of looked at other courses and seen what they've done, so we're kind of ready for when the day does come, [with some] systems that will work to keep social distancing on the golf course," said LePage.
Restrictions could include one person per cart, not touching flags along the greens and limiting the number of people inside the pro shop.
LePage said the course will be ready to open, once the province lifts restrictions.
Although many golf courses typically open around the middle of May, LePage said restrictions could force his golf course to lose money this summer.
"Probably 50 per cent of our revenue is driven by our cottages and our stay and fly packages," said LePage.
"So the odds of being able to put four golfers in a cottage this summer, and having them golf for three days, you know is quite remote right now, looking at it. So it could be real bad for us."
Before the province issued its state of emergency last month, the Carmen Creek Golf Course was filled with bookings. Many of those have been cancelled or postponed after the restrictions were announced.
Terry Avery, owner of the Fredericton golf course, said the holes aren't ready to open just yet because the course is on a floodplain and still under water.
However, the driving range would've been open for about 20 days by now.
"We're basically just doing mechanical work in the shop," Avery said. "We have one person in the shop, where normally we'd have a couple."
Avery said the Fredericton course would implement whatever measures the province asks so it can open safely.
"The last thing we want is somebody getting [COVID-19] on a golf course in New Brunswick."
What to do if you have symptoms
People concerned they might have COVID-19 can take a self-assessment on the government website. Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, a new or worsening cough, and breathlessness, as well as sore throat, headache and runny nose. People with two of those symptoms are asked to:
Stay at home.
Immediately call Tele-Care 811 or their doctor
Describe symptoms and travel history.
With files from Hadeel Ibrahim, Jordan Gill