Higgs expects municipalities to close parks to combat COVID-19
2 new confirmed cases brings province's total to 70
Premier Blaine Higgs says he expects municipalities to follow the province's lead and close their parks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
He made the comments Tuesday in response to a question from CBC News, seeking clarification about the status of municipal parks.
The federal government has closed national parks and the New Brunswick government has closed provincial parks but most municipal parks remain open.
There are two new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick, bringing the province's total to 70, the chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell announced Tuesday during the daily update in Fredericton.
When the premier was asked whether he would direct municipalities to close their parks, he said: "Our general direction about parks [is] we do not want to keep any places open that would cause a, let's say a gathering, to take place. And I would expect municipalities to follow that same protocol as we're following here."
The City of Fredericton is seeking further clarification from the province, spokesperson Wayne Knorr said Tuesday night.
"We're just trying to understand what is meant by that," he said.
"Obviously it would be very difficult for us to be closing … green spaces and our parks."
One of the "challenges" is the size of the spaces, said Knorr, citing the green space along the St. John River downtown as an example.
Odell Park, meanwhile, is 333 acres, with 16 kilometres of trails.
"So [we're] just trying to understand exactly how we close those spaces."
The city has been recommending citizens avoid any parks or trails that are crowded and that they practise physical distancing, keeping six feet apart, said Knorr.
"Generally we've seen good compliance. We've really not received very many calls at all about that," he said.
It also closed its dog parks Tuesday morning and previously closed its playground structures, he added.
Saint John Mayor Don Darling said he has asked staff to follow up on the premier's comments.
"We'll take our lead from the province on this issue," he said in an email Tuesday night.
But when asked if that means Rockwood Park and other parks will be closed, Darling said the city needs further clarification.
"The chief medical officer was asked and we need specific advice, when it comes to the use of municipal parks," he wrote.
In an earlier interview, before the premier's comments, Darling said the park issue has caused some confusion among citizens and municipal leaders alike.
He said he sought clarification from city staff that morning after hearing Higgs's comments at Monday's COVID-19 update regarding New River beach near Saint John.
Our parks are still open but people are, you know, using those to exercise but not socialize and making sure that they're physical distancing.- Don Darling, Saint John mayor
Higgs had expressed frustration about more than 100 cars being parked there over the weekend, saying: "The beaches and parks are closed. The playgrounds are closed … any areas where gathering points would be normally are closed. People need to understand that and we will enforce it."
Darling said the city has been following the direction of Public Health and he wanted to ensure that was still the case.
"From our perspective, we are following the direction of the chief medical officer," he said.
"Our parks are still open but people are … using those to exercise but not socialize and making sure that they're physical distancing."
Russell has recommended people go outside for walks or hikes for their physical and mental health.
Darling said he walks his dog daily and has observed "folks doing a great job" of maintaining a distance of at least six feet.
He also pointed out that Saint John has a "pretty unique circumstance" with more than 1,800 acres of park space around the city.
"There's going to be a natural inclination for folks to want to be outside. The weather is getting better. And you know we need to make sure we're sending clear messages to the public and we're aligned between municipalities and the province on what that advice is from a health and safety perspective," he said.
"So we believed we were following the direction. But again if the directive needs to change or if we need to tighten up somewhere, we will."
Moncton is also seeking further clarification about the premier's comments, said spokesperson Isabelle LeBlanc.
"Once we get that we will be able to determine the next steps," she said.
On Tuesday, Russell said the main concern is about people congregating.
"So I think walking in the areas that you can in terms of sidewalks and trails around your house is really the best case scenario at this point in time."