New Brunswick

N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Return to new normal is 'not a race,' top doctor says

New Brunswick will move back into a new version of normal when it is safe to do so, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health said Thursday.

Province extends state of emergency, despite no new cases for 12 days

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health, said there are no new cases of COVID-19, but New Brunswickers need to remain vigilant. (Government of New Brunswick/Submitted)

Latest

  • Province extends emergency measures
  • Premier will not reverse decision to ban temporary foreign workers
  • New program announced to protect workers impacted by COVID-19
  • Province receives data on where people are going
  • Support available to businesses and workers
  • Students in Anglophone South need to clean out desks, lockers
  • Groups in Fredericton encourage residents to buy local
  • Moncton warns residents to continue physical distancing on trails
  • Miramichi cancels popular folk festival
  • What to do if you have symptoms

New Brunswick will move back into a new version of normal when it is safe to do so, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health said Thursday.

After seven weeks in lockdown and 12 days with no new cases of COVID-19, Dr. Jennifer Russell said she's aware some New Brunswickers are asking why they can't get their hair cut, hang out with friends or go to the mall.  

"The answer is life will return to a different version of normal, and we will learn to live with this virus until an effective vaccine or some other treatment is available."

During Thursday's news conference, Russell pointed to other jurisdictions planning to reopen.

"This is not a race," she said. 

"There is no prize for being the first at getting everything reopened. Success is about reopening things at the right time and doing it very safely."

New Brunswick hasn't had any new cases of COVID-19 for 12 days. (CBC News)

The new normal in New Brunswick will include physical distancing in public and getting used to people wearing face masks.

Moving forward, government, businesses and local entrepreneurs will adapt and find the best tools to reduce transmission of the disease, Russell said.

"New Brunswick led in the initial response and we will lead in recovery," she said. "However, we will take whatever time it takes to get this right." 

Only four people in the province are living with COVID-19 out of the 118 cases the province has recorded. No one with the respiratory illness is in hospital.

Premier Blaine Higgs said he doesn't plan to reverse his decision on banning foreign temporary workers from coming into the province. (Government of New Brunswick/Submitted)

But Russell made it clear New Brunswickers are still at risk of COVID-19 and as long as the virus is present globally, the province can expect another case.

The experience so far has bought the province and doctors time to prepare for future cases.

"We're not done with this virus and this virus is not done with us," Russell said 

Here's a roundup of other developments.

Province extends state of emergency

The province has extended the state of emergency for another two weeks.

The declaration under the Emergency Measures Act does include some revisions. All licences, registrations, certificates and permits issued under provincial laws that were valid as of March 16 have been extended to June 30. Many renewals can be done online.

A new paragraph has been added to authorize municipal councils and council committees to hold more meetings electronically. New Brunswick's Local Governance Act normally limits councillors' participation in meetings electronically rather than in person.

"Our government will continue to take the actions necessary to protect our province," said Premier Blaine Higgs.

"And we will make changes as needed as the situation continues to unfold." 

New Brunswick has been under a state of emergency since March 19.

Premier will not reverse decision to ban temporary foreign workers

Premier Blaine Higgs seemed to lose patience following a stream of questions Thursday about his decision to keep foreign workers out of New Brunswick for now.

Higgs made it clear he does not plan to reverse the province's decision to ban foreign workers.

"When public health tells me we no longer have a health risk in New Brunswick and we no longer need to follow any rules of public health, well then we're back in business as normal," Higgs said.

"But I don't see that happening anytime soon and as a result we will continue with mitigating whatever risk we can."

Premier Blaine Higgs responds to a question on whether he would make any exemptions for farming or fish processing after those sectors criticized his decision to close borders to foreign workers. 1:12

Until then, Higgs said the province will be monitoring New Brunswick's borders more closely.

"Our number one goal is ensuring the health of each and every citizen of this province," he said. 

Seafood processors have joined food and trucking industries, calling on the provincial government to reverse its decision to ban temporary foreign workers.

Higgs announced the ban earlier this week but several groups and organizations are still hoping to change his mind or secure exemptions.

"Two weeks ago, we described the situation in the seafood industry as a perfect storm," said Nat Richard, manager of corporate affairs for Downeast Cape Bald Packers in Cap-Pelé.

"That was before this decision."

Richard learned about the decision Monday night and said he was stunned.

He already had a chartered plane en route to Mexico to pick up the temporary foreign workers for his plant and bring them to Canada.

New Brunswick's seafood industry is calling on the province to reverse its decision to ban temporary foreign workers because of COVID-19. (CBC)

"We had a number of Mexican workers that were supposed to come to New Brunswick … they'll be quarantined in Nova Scotia and redeployed to some of our sister plants in Nova Scotia."

Richard said the decision could have serious consequences for the seafood industry.

He agrees health and safety are paramount, but that New Brunswick shouldn't act unilaterally.

He said he has spared no expense in ensuring his plant is outfitted with Plexiglas barriers between workers. He also had masks and protective shields available for employees to use.

Since other provinces are still allowed to bring in temporary foreign workers, Richard is worried New Brunswick's decision could put his seafood plant at a competitive disadvantage. 

He's hopeful the province will re-examine its decision.

"I really do think there is a way here for us to do this without making any compromises on ensuring the health and safety of our workers, co–workers and of the communities where we do business," he said. 

The province plans to launch a virtual job-matching platform Monday that will connect New Brunswickers with positions that have previously been filled by temporary foreign workers.

With 70,000 unemployed New Brunswickers and students in the province, Higgs has said it should be possible to fill the approximately 600 farm and fish plant vacancies in agriculture and fish processing.

New program announced to protect workers impacted by COVID-19

Trevor Holder, New Brunswick's minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, has announced a new program that will protect jobs for people unable to work because of COVID-19.

The program is designed for New Brunswickers who have COVID-19, are caring for a family member who has the virus or is following self-isolation or quarantine protocols issued by Public Health. 

It also provides job protection for employees who cannot report to work because they are caring for their children because of school or daycare closures.

Labour Minister Trevor Holder explains which employees will get job projection if they can't return to work when businesses start up again. 2:02

The program is retroactive to March 12. However, employers are not required to pay employees while they are on a leave because of COVID-19. 

Holder made reference to a number of programs in place to help New Brunswickers financially. He mentioned the one-time benefit of $900 for New Brunswickers who lost their jobs because of the virus, and federal EI benefits. 

"The number one goal here is to make sure that workers have a job to go back to and that's what's been driving this," Holder said. 

Province receives data on where people are going

Every week, Public Health in New Brunswick has been receiving national information based on cellphone data that records people's movements every week.

"It can even tell you which regions have more movement than others in North America," said Dr. Jennifer Russell, the  chief medical officer of health.

Over the last couple of weeks, Russell said, there hasn't been any increase in movement across New Brunswick. 

"We can track the extensiveness of people's movement and whether it changes from being less active to more active." 

Premier Blaine Higgs said officers are still looking for non-compliance situations and issuing tickets across the province. 

Support available to businesses and workers

Trevor Holder, New Brunswick's minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, announced WorkingNB services available to New Brunswick employers or job-seekers looking for support.

He said staff can offer assistance over the phone, while more options are expected to become available in the future.

"We know that, to have an environment where businesses and New Brunswickers can get back on track and thrive, we need to start re-energizing our private sector," said Holder. "Our WorkingNB offices are a valuable piece of that puzzle for employers and job-seekers."

Trevor Holder, New Brunswick's minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, said the province has introduced a new program that will protect jobs for people unable to work because of COVID-19. (Government of New Brunswick/Submitted)

Businesses with human resource challenges can contact WorkingNB concerning issues with recruitment, retention or training for support through a workforce consultant.

Workers seeking career or training opportunities can connect with an employment counsellor at WorkingNB. Counsellors can help clients identify career goals and connect them to the labour market through training and employment opportunities.

Holder said staff will also be working with municipalities and economic development agencies to help address community challenges.

Students in Anglophone South need to clean out desks, lockers 

Students in the Anglophone School District South will be able to retrieve items from their desks and lockers as early as next week, Superintendent Zoe Watson said in an email to families.

Principals and staff are developing a process and time frame that will allow students and parents to retrieve items. The information will will be shared online.

Parents who have children attending Kindergarten to Grade 5 and Kindergarten to Grade 8 schools, along with some middle schools, are asked to pick up the items in the coming weeks. Some schools may package up the items in a bag and label for quick pick-up.

High school students are asked to clean out their own lockers.

Meanwhile, students who regularly use assistive technology as part of their educational program will be able to have the devices picked up for home use. Watson said the items have been thoroughly cleaned. Band instruments will also be available to be picked up.

Families cannot return any textbooks or other materials to the school at this time.

If a school is not packing up materials, parents and students are reminded to bring their own bags.

"Principals will let you know which entrance(s) will be used and you will be met by a staff member," Watson said in the letter.

"Each person will be asked to review the questions on the poster from Public Health displayed in the window. On entry to the school you will be asked to wash your hands using designated washrooms. It is recommended that you wash your hands again after leaving the school."

Watson said masks are not required while entering the schools, but are recommended.

"It is critical that everyone respect the safety guidelines of Public Health so we can ensure the health and safety of our students, staff and families," she said. 

Groups in Fredericton encourage residents to buy local 

The City of Fredericton, Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Fredericton Inc., Business Fredericton North, and Ignite Fredericton have launched a partnership to encourage residents to buy from local businesses.

The partnership includes a website, #SupportFredLocal, which directs residents to businesses that are open or offering alternative forms of purchase like online shopping, take-out and delivery during COVID-19 pandemic.

The website includes a listing of more than 200 Fredericton businesses that are open and trying to find different ways to conduct business. 

"As we work with downtown businesses to spread the word that many are operational, and with the expectation that even more will be opening their doors in the coming weeks, partnering with the City and other agencies only makes sense," said Bruce McCormack, general manager of Downtown Fredericton Inc.

"Together we have a common goal to support businesses as well as our residents through this unprecedented time."

Moncton warns residents to continue physical distancing on trails 

The City of Moncton is reminding its residents to practise physical distancing when using trails to exercise.

Jocelyn Cohoon, director of leisure service in Moncton, said the city is urging trail users to avoid missteps.

"We're really looking for people's co–operation because we don't want to have to close the trails due overcrowding or due to situations that make people uncomfortable," Cohoon said. 

There have been few complaints of pedestrians, runners and bikers misusing the trails, Cohoon said, but the city is worried that could change as the weather warms up.

"We think as things dry up, that will encourage people spreading out a bit more too."

The city recommends people use more remote parks in Centennial Park, Irishtown and Mapleton to avoid overcrowding. 

Cohoon said those passing others on trails should give a voice cue. Trail users should stick to the right and pass on the left as well, she said. 

Families walking in a group should walk single file when someone on the trail is trying to pass them.

The Town of Riverview also has staff monitoring trails. To date they have reported very few violations.

Both Riverview and Dieppe placed signage on all of its trails to remind users of the physical distancing guidelines.

Miramichi cancels popular folk festival 

The Miramichi Folksong Festival will celebrate its 63rd anniversary online this summer, organizers announced earlier this week. 

The festival was originally scheduled to run from Aug. 2 to Aug. 7 onstage.

Susan Butler, the festival's organizer, considered cancelling altogether after she heard gatherings were banned until the end of the year. 

The decision was made after a colleague suggesting a virtual festival instead. 

"This is just a preview for next year … this will be more of an invite to come to the 64th Miramichi Folksong Festival and here's a little bit of what you're going to hear," Butler said.

Many of the musicians scheduled to perform this year will instead send a video of themselves playing an instrument or singing. The performers have already agreed to play live at the 64th Folksong Festival. 

Music videos will be released on the festival's Facebook page on New Brunswick Day.

What to do if you have symptoms

People concerned they might have COVID-19 can take a self-assessment on the government website. Symptoms include fever, a new or worsening cough, breathlessness, sore throat, headache and runny nose.

More symptoms were added to the list this week, including: a new onset of fatigue, a new onset of muscle pain, diarrhea, and loss of sense of taste or loss of sense of smell. In children, purple markings on the fingers or toes are also a symptom.

If you have two of these symptoms, you should:

  • Stay at home.

  • Call Tele-Care 811 or your doctor

  • Describe your symptoms and travel history.

  • Follow instructions.

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

With files from Sarah Morin

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