New Brunswick

Hugs in a reopened province: A refresher on COVID-19 guidelines

Not to burst anyone's bubble, but if New Brunswickers want to keep COVID-19 at bay, they still need to limit the number of people they hug and come into close contact with.

You can hug and take group photos, but Dr. Jennifer Russell says it's not necessarily the best idea

Vehicles line up to get back into New Brunswick from Prince Edward Island on Sunday. The Atlantic bubble is now early in its second week. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC News)

Not to burst anyone's bubble, but if New Brunswickers want to keep COVID-19 at bay, they still need to limit the number of people they hug and come into close contact with.

That's what Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer, is reminding people as they enjoy summer and the Atlantic travel bubble. 

Since New Brunswick joined the other Atlantic provinces in a bubble more than a week ago, there has been an air of almost-last July in places.

But this July is still very different, and there are guidelines that might be forgotten as friends and family reunite after being kept apart for months. 

There is also your own judgment, Russell said.

"We each as individuals have to make our own choices about what we're comfortable with."

Here are some tips.

Hugs and pictures

Earlier in the recovery program, the province incorporated a two-household bubble rule to allow some visiting during the pandemic, but now you can spend time with family and friends outside these old bubbles.

"Yes, you could hug everybody you wanted to," Dr. Jennifer Russell said. "There's no law against hugging people, but in a pandemic situation, where at any time we can see outbreaks and we have no idea how big those outbreaks will be, and to manage them, they have to be small."

If you only hug one other person in two weeks or get up close to one person for a photo, then only one person will be part of your close contact list.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, says that until a vaccine is developed, people will need to be vigilant, self-monitor, wash their hands and practise physical distancing. (Government of New Brunswick/Submitted)

This translates into a lesser impact on New Brunswick's health-care system and resources, public health and the economy should new cases result.

"This is an exponentially transmittable disease in the sense that it's based on how many close contacts you have," Russell said.This translates into a lesser impact on New Brunswick's health-care system and resources, public health and the economy should new cases result.

"This is an exponentially transmittable disease in the sense that it's based on how many close contacts you have," Russell said.

Larger groups

Under the current yellow phase, almost everything is allowed to open, with precautions. According to the mandatory order, owners and occupiers of land or buildings must take all reasonable steps to prevent gatherings of more than 50 people, unless they can ensure adequate screening and distancing.

This includes any kind of socializing, celebration, ceremony or entertainment.

People visiting from other Atlantic provinces can stay at your home, but if it's more than a few, Russell suggested visitors use tents, trailers or airbnbs.

"The lower the number of people, the lower the risk."

Although all Atlantic provinces have seen new cases of the respiratory illness since the bubble opened July 3, the numbers are still low.

"That was the basis of the decision to allow the Atlantic provinces to open up, to allow people to travel without having to self-isolate for two weeks."

New Brunswick's lone active case is travel-related but not connected to the Atlantic bubble.

The mask rule 

In New Brunswick, it is mandatory to wear a mask in places where physically distancing isn't possible, and this includes  government buildings, grocery and convenience stores and other retail spots.

In New Brunswick, it's mandatory for people to wear masks if they cannot physically distance themselves from others in public buildings. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

And if you cannot physically distance or wear a mask, you must remove yourself from the situation, Russell said. 

New Brunswick has strong requirements in its mandatory order. However, masks are constantly being discussed both provincially and nationally, she said.

Russell also recommends people have a mask and hand sanitizer on hand at all times. 

"We do want people to feel very comfortable wearing masks," she said.

At the beach or by the pool

You still need to avoid crowds and being close to others in social settings around pools and at the beach, Russell said.

She also doesn't recommend eating from buffet-style food or sharing drinks or sharing food utensils. 

And although it's the responsibility of establishments and businesses to offer a safe environment for patrons and staff to interact, shop and work, it's important you still use your own judgment and be prepared to leave a place that has fallen short.  

"People really have to really consider their exit strategy if they aren't comfortable."

In other provinces

Russell said there are differences in rules and regulations in each province, based on the number of COVID-19 cases, but the risk of transmitting COVID-19 among these provinces is considered low at the moment.

That doesn't mean you should let your guard down. An outbreak could happen at any time.

If you are visiting friends in another province in the Atlantic travel bubble, Russell suggests camping outside rather than staying in your friends' house. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC News file photo)

"We still need to stay vigilant and we still need to self-monitor for symptoms."

Some fun matters

To protect mental health, Russell encourages everyone, including seniors, to socialize and participate in activities.

It is also important to acknowledge the people you're spending time with and to know whether they are at high risk of COVID-19 because of medical conditions or have close contacts working in institutional settings. 

What happens now?

As the pandemic continues to evolve, people who work in public health are learning more about the virus and updating rules and regulations..

Russell said there is still a risk for a second wave of COVID-19 in New Brunswick. But it's important New Brunswickers do their part to remain in the yellow phase rather than be required to move backward.

This requires frequent hand washing and keeping a distance of at least two metres until a vaccine is found. 

"There's going to be a bit of an on-off switch of how we respond and react."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

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