N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Higgs in no hurry to open borders
There are 117 cases of COVID-19 across the province
- No new cases of COVID-19
- All-terrain vehicle trails reopen to drivers despite pandemic
- Don't visit the cottage this weekend
- Premier meets with mayors
- Province could loosen some restrictions
- Power services company tells staff to self-isolate after Maine job
- A look at how hospitals are preparing for COVID-19 patients
- Province could slip into 'severe recession'
- Legislature adopts 3 new measures in response to COVID-19
- What to do if you have symptoms
Keeping New Brunswick borders closed will allow provincial life to reach a new normal sooner, Premier Blaine Higgs says.
The province still had a total of 117 cases as of Friday, after no increases two days in a row Neighbouring Quebec, meanwhile, has more than 16,700 confirmed cases and Nova Scotia more than 600.
"We are a bit of an oasis right here, right now and we're blessed by that," Higgs said at his regular COVID-19 briefing.
"And we do not want to lose traction in that regard. The last thing we'd want is take an unnecessary risk through relaxing in any way our border crossings."
We can return to the new normal quicker — we have that potential — as long as we don't take it for granted.- Premier Blaine Higgs
The border with Maine is also closed, but the government of Canada decides when international borders close or open.
There are 690,900 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., including more than 800 in Maine.
Higgs said that at a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday night, he and other premiers talked about how some parts of the country may be in a slightly better place on the coronovirus road than others. They identified three provinces — New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island — that might be able to move forward with some recovery efforts.
But Higgs said this would only be done while protecting the borders.
At some point, the premier said, he will discuss the border question with the COVID-19 cabinet committee, Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, and other health officials, but he didn't see that happening soon.
"We can return to the new normal quicker — we have that potential — as long as we don't take it for granted. As long as we don't think we're out of the woods here," Higgs said. "Because we could jump right back into the woods in a real hurry."
No new cases of COVID-19
Recent case numbers, which haven't increased for two days, are encouraging, but Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health says, this progress could quickly be lost if the public does not remain vigilant.
"Every New Brunswicker must continue to stay at home as much as they possibly can," she said Friday.
Sixty-six of the New Brunswick cases are travel-related, 42 are close contacts of confirmed cases, and nine are the result of community transmission.
During the pandemic, 13 people have been hospitalized and eight of those patients have been discharged. Three of the five patients in hospital are in an intensive care unit.
Eighty-three people have recovered.
Russell said 1.1 per cent of the people tested in New Brunswick so far have tested positive, which indicates steps taken so far have been effective, but people have to continue making good choices to stay safe from the respiratory illness.
This was the second day in a row without new confirmed cases to report. The province performed 586 tests on Thursday, the largest volume since testing started last month.
Here is a roundup of other developments.
Higgs not pleased ATV trails reopened to drivers
Premier Blaine Higgs said he was disappointed to find out that New Brunswick's all-terrain vehicle trails reopened Friday.
A letter was sent out Thursday by New Brunswick ATV Federation president Roger Daigle about the opening.
"Even though we are in the middle of the woods, it is crucial that we respect the following rules: We must refrain from using our shelters and riding in big groups; also we must keep our distance and ride safely," Daigle said in the letter.
The move had the support of Natural Resources Minister Mike Holland, but Higgs said he was concerned it might lead to gatherings, which are not allowed under the state of emergency.
"I think the messaging got a little offside here."
Don't visit the cottage this weekend
As the weather gets nicer, Premier Blaine Higgs is pleading with New Brunswickers to avoid visiting their cottages over the weekend.
"I am sympathetic to that situation," he said. "I recognize that in New Brunswick, we have different areas that we like to go and I feel the same way personally."
Higgs said Public Health and government want to find a way that would allow residents to have "some freedom" to travel across the province.
But this might not be possible until at least two weeks after passed since the long Easter weekend, and the province knows how it's faring by the case numbers then.
For now, he's urging people to stay in their communities and avoid "moving across the province."
"We'll find a way but I'm asking people just to be patient for a little bit longer."
Premier meets with mayors
Premier Blaine Higgs spoke with 114 New Brunswick mayors and officials on a conference call Friday to answer some of their concerns about economic recovery.
He said he told the mayors the government is actively working on a recovery plan and strategy, and the details will be available in coming weeks.
"But we cannot make the mistake of returning to our normal life too soon," he said.
"Even when current restrictions are reduced, we are not going back to business as usual anytime soon."
Summer festivals could be cancelled
Premier Blaine Higgs said some summer concerts and events could also be cancelled this summer.
However, the premier did say couples also don't need to cancel upcoming weddings this summer.
But if they do plan to get married, they have to do it in a way that respects physical distancing and keeping people safe.
"It's about finding a way to actually do what we want to do and do what we'd like to do, but do it in a safe manner that can adhere to the guidelines," he said.
Province could loosen some restrictions
At Thursday's premiers meeting, there was discussion about certain regions peeling back some of their restrictions.
Those provinces included New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan.
Although New Brunswick might be in a different situation from other parts of Canada, Higgs said the province will continue to follow direction from public health.
"I don't see anything changing certainly in the control around our borders."
Workers at power service company told to self-isolate
Up to 70 workers from a power services company in New Brunswick have been told to self-isolate at home after restoring power in Maine over the past week.
Thousands of residents in Maine lost power for just over a week after a snow and wind storm. Utilities in the state called on Holland Power Services in Fredericton for help.
"In these trying times, when you're in the dark and uncertain in uncertain times, we really need to step up and help those people effectively," Earl Holland, president and owner of Holland Power Service, said Friday.
There are more than 800 cases of COVID-19 in Maine, the majority of them in the southern part of the state.
Holland said his crews were working in northern and central areas of Maine.
"It is an emergency mandatory service," he said. "We have to prepare continuously for all kinds of different scenarios."
The company put together a plan two months ago, preparing for the pandemic. For instance, one person is instructed to drive a bucket truck, while that person's partner drives another vehicle.
Holland said his staff have returned home safely on Thursday and will stay home for 14 days.
"If there happened to be another storm and services are required again, we'll have to make that judgment of when or if we would go," he said.
Crews were also asked to restore power Pennsylvania and Rhode Island but Holland said the company declined because of safety risks.
"We'll have to make that judgment of when or if we would go."
A look at how hospitals are preparing for COVID-19 patients
In a Twitter post, the president of the New Brunswick Medical Society has revealed what it would look like to intubate patients coming in with COVID-19 at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton.
Dr. Chris Goodyear showed people what the intensive-care unit looks like for patients with COViD-19 who need to be looked after.
Dr. Chris Goodyear shares an inside look on how front-line health-care workers are preparing to receive <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#COVID19</a> patients. <a href="https://t.co/i5wX4EUOwz">pic.twitter.com/i5wX4EUOwz</a>—@nb_docs
Medical staff at the hospital practise putting on personal protective gear, which included face shield. Then they safely take it off,
"By you practising your proper social distancing, your self-isolation as well as your handwashing techniques, hopefully I'll never have to put that stuff on again," Goodyear says in the video.
Province could slip into 'severe recession'
Earlier this week, the Royal Bank forecast New Brunswick's economy will shrink by 4.5 per cent this year and temporarily shed 43,000 jobs before recovery begins toward the end of summer.
"We now project all provinces will slip into a severe recession," bank economists Robert Hogue and Ramya Muthukumaran wrote in a report looking at the prospects for each province coping with the coronavirus.
"Business closures, massive layoffs and drastically reduced working hours for those still employed generate additional knock-on effects for other sectors — leading to further job losses and deepening the economic contraction. The end result will be for 2020 to mark the steepest one-year decline in GDP for all provinces."
The Conference Board of Canada, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Toronto-Dominion and National banks have each recently projected a severe economic contraction in New Brunswick this year of between 3.2 and 4.1 per cent.
That's significantly worse than the banking crisis and recession of 2008 when New Brunswick's economy declined by a combined 0.6 per cent over two years.
Legislature adopts 3 new measures in response to COVID-19
The New Brunswick legislature met for a quick 25-minute sitting Friday to adopt three new measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Workers will now be protected from being fired for staying home if they're self-isolating or if they have to care for a sick family member.
The bill amends the Employment Standards Act, which already has protections for workers, but "none of them would directly apply to the unprecedented emergency situation we find ourselves in today," Labour Minister Trevor Holder told the house.
MLAs also voted to give the government the power to establish emergency child care centres for children of essential workers who haven't been able to find other arrangements.
The province closed daycares last month as part its response to the pandemic but allowed some centres to operate for children of essential workers.
But not everyone has been able to find spots, so the law will let the province set up centres "in areas of need, when all other avenues have been exhausted," Public Safety Minister Carl Urquhart said.
The same bill, which amends the Emergency Measures Act, also suspends the deadlines for New Brunswickers filing court actions or complaints to provincial tribunals.
The deadlines will be suspended during the emergency and for 90 days after it ends.
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.
Describe symptoms and travel history.
Follow instructions carefully.
With files from Robert Jones, Jacques Poitras