N.B. COVID-19 roundup: No new cases of virus as province launches recovery phase
There have been a total of 118 cases of COVID-19 in the province
- New Brunswick could open border with Prince Edward Island
- Testing will continue to evolve
- Federal government offers rent subsidies
- Premier believes New Brunswick will recover
- Shediac Lobster Festival cancelled
- Province wants to bring back elective surgeries
- Premier doesn't want residents to pay more tax
- What to do if you have symptoms
After the sixth straight day of no new COVID-19 cases in New Brunswick, the provincial government moved Friday to open up the outdoors and allow people to see a select group outside their own household.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, said testing and contact tracing will continue across the province, and people must continue to practise physical distancing and frequent handwashing.
"I will not hesitate to recommend the re-imposition of the restrictions being loosened today if the outbreak worsens," said Russell. "Any significant acceleration of the disease curve will trigger a new round of restrictions to public movement and activity."
But the four-phase recovery plan begins immediately, allowing "two-family bubbles" to meet with one another, Premier Blaine Higgs said at the daily coronavirus briefing. Despite the "family" in the description, the looser rule applies to households, even if its members aren't related.
Outdoor spaces, such as parks and beaches, and golf courses, will also open immediately, along with fishing and hunting seasons, car pooling, "drive-in" religious services and post-secondary education, starting with "practical programs," he told reporters during the daily briefing in Fredericton.
If physical distancing is difficult to maintain, Russell recommended residents wear community face masks. Organizations and businesses can require customers to wear face masks.
"I support this and any other measures that businesses and organizations decide to take to prevent further spread of the virus," Russell said.
Reopening of gathering places, organized sports and bars are "yet to be determined."
But large festivals and concerts are still prohibited through to Dec. 31, but Higgs said this is subject to change.
"With the knowledge we have today of the virus and how it spreads it would not be appropriate for us to suggest that we were to do anything other than to prevent mass gatherings and to ensure we didn't have a huge breakout in our community and our province," Higgs said.
The news conference announcing the steps toward recovery included three other party leaders in addition to Higgs, including Liberal Kevin Vickers, David Coon of the Green Party and Kris Austin of the People's Alliance.
All three opposition leaders, members of the all-party cabinet committee that approved the decisions about reopening, said they supported banning large events in New Brunswick for the rest of the year.
But Coon stressed the province needs measures to support businesses, musicians and athletes who will be hurt by this. And the province needs to find a way "to do things differently."
"There are those businesses and pastimes that depend on large gatherings of people tightly packed together and with this virus, it doesn't permit that," Coon said.
Here's a roundup of other developments.
11 active cases of COVID-19
Out of the 118 confirmed cases of COVID-19, there are still 11 active cases, including four people in hospital, one of whom is in intensive care, chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell announced.
To date, a total of 107 people have recovered from the respiratory illness, she said.
The province has been under a state of emergency since March 19 because of the pandemic.
New Brunswick could open border with P.E.I.
Under the recovery plan announced Friday, New Brunswick will still have to keep its borders closed, and Premier Blaine Higgs suggested the province may even further restrict movement at the border.
"We need to know exactly where they're going, why they're going, and if it's necessary," said Higgs.
Higgs spoke with Premier Dennis King about "pending things" the two provinces could open together.
P.E.I.'s chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison said Friday that of the Island's 26 cases of COVID-19, 24 are considered recovered. The last time a new case was announced was April 15.
Higgs said if the situation remains comparable between the two province, it is possible New Brunswick could reopen its border with P.E.I., but will keep it closed for now.
Testing will continue to evolve
As restriction loosen up, testing for COVID-19 will continue and the criteria for it will continue to evolve, Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical health officer says.
The province now will test if a person has two of the five symptoms of COVID-19, but over a longer period of time, this could drop to one symptom, she said.
She said testing is still happening in hospitals and emergency departments. And a rapid response team has also been put in place to test New Brunswick's vulnerable population or people who work in nursing homes.
And once long-term supplies and technology becomes more available, Russell said, the province will move into testing on a larger scale.
She also expects there will also be serum testing for antibodies in people who have already had the disease.
The province has tested a total of 12,418 people for COVID-19. Russell has said that the data to give an accurate picture of the disease in New Brunswick, Public Health has to keep up the same pace of testing.
Federal government offers rent subsidies
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today announced a new rent subsidy program to help businesses forced to shut down due to the global pandemic, as some provinces, including New Brunswick, begin to lay out plans to reopen their economies.
The rent relief plan, to be funded jointly with the provinces, will provide non-repayable loans to commercial property owners to cover 50 per cent of rent payments for April, May and June.
Premier Blaine Higgs said New Brunswick will take part in the program.
"We will continue to evaluate each business to ensure that the right measures go in the right place," he said.
Premier believes New Brunswick will recover
Premier Blaine Higgs was upbeat Friday about the province's ability to recover and said business and government have learned valuable lessons, including some about streamlining, because of their response to the outbreak.
"In a nutshell, it's starting to take advantage of what we love here in New Brunswick about our wide open spaces," he said.
Many aspects of economic life in the province have been shut down and people have been staying mostly at home since March 19, when Higgs declared a state of emergency because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Shediac lobster Festival cancelled
The Shediac Lobster Festival announced the cancellation of the five day event in July—the same day Higgs announced that large gatherings would be put on hold until the end of the year.
"The organization supports the Government of New Brunswick's recommendations and urges you to follow the suggested guidelines so that we can start planning again for the festival that is so important to us all," the Shediac Lobster Festival said in a news release.
This would've been the festival's 71st anniversary.
"The team will be ready and looks forward to greeting you in 2021."
Province wants to bring back elective surgeries
Last month Horizon Health and Vitalité health networks reduced surgical access, except for urgent procedures such as limb-saving and cancer surgeries.
Premier Blaine Higgs said Friday that he's looking at opening operating rooms for eight to 12 hours a day and possibly for 24 hours a day, so people won't have to wait as long for procedures that were delayed by COVD-19.
"We're looking at the whole system understanding what's the backlog that's been created even more so because of covid-19."
Higgs doesn't want residents to pay more tax
Premier Blaine Higgs made it clear Friday morning that he did not want New Brunswickers to pay more taxes following the COVID-19 outbreak.
"I think the last thing that we need for the average citizen and people trying to make a living here is to pay more taxes," he said.
The province is working alongside local businesses to help them reopen, while looking at their protocol. Higgs also spoke with federal Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly this week about a tourism package and how to help businesses recover in that particular sector.
April is the first month of the province's new fiscal year — and it's already run into a financial deficit.
Higgs has said for weeks he will worry about the province's finances after the threat from COVID-19 passes but has acknowledged restarting the economy and solving the fiscal problem the virus leaves behind will be daunting.
He said businesses will need to find a new way to operate in what is "the new normal" following COVID-19, perhaps including more working at home.
"At this stage I'm not foreseeing new taxes because I don't think that's going to help our economy grow."
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 Jordan Gill, Information Morning Fredericton, Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon