N.B. COVID-19 roundup: Businesses should prepare to reopen, build 'better and stronger' province
New web portal launched where people can access test results instead of waiting for phone call
- All-party cabinet committee to discuss recovery plan this week
- No new cases for third straight day, total stands at 118
- New web portal for COVID-19 test results
- Grants of $500 to $10K for small and medium-sized non-profits
- Hospital ORs at 30 per cent capacity, says medical society president
- Demand for support services has risen during COVID-19, says disability advocate
- What to do if you have symptoms
Premier Blaine Higgs says the owners of businesses closed by COVID-19 could start thinking now about how they will meet Public Health's prevention measures, such as physical distancing, in order to reopen.
Although no dates have been set, the all-party cabinet committee will discuss New Brunswick's plan for recovery from the pandemic this week, he said Tuesday.
"We need to bring New Brunswick back. We need to create a province that, you know, gets back to its economic viability and its lifestyle, and people feel that sense of purpose, and the benefits that exist from living in our province.
"I believe our new norm is going to create new opportunities. And I believe New Brunswick is going to come back bigger and better and stronger than it [was] pre-COVID."
His comments come as the chief medical officer of health announced no new cases of COVID-19 for the third straight day.
The total number of cases in the province stands at 118, and 102 people have now recovered, Dr. Jennifer Russell told reporters during the daily update in Fredericton.
"But we are not through with this virus," she said.
While closures were done quickly, Higgs said reopenings must be handled methodically and incrementally to ensure the province doesn't suffer a setback with a resurgence of cases.
This is still a critical time, he said, noting the province is vulnerable to further spread from other provinces.
"We will need to move slowly and we must be careful. We were fortunate in New Brunswick but we cannot take this for granted."
Protecting the health and safety of citizens remains "first and foremost" for the government, the premier said.
"So we have to meet the Public Health guidelines as we look at any movement to reopen our economy."
"But we don't have to sacrifice one for the other," he said. The government will take a "balanced approach."
'Different levels of risk'
"As we do open things, there's always different levels of risk," Higgs acknowledged, but the "overarching requirement" will be to follow Public Health guidelines.
Higgs expects they will be "pretty straightforward" for businesses. Physical distancing of at least six feet and proper sanitization procedures will be the "new norm" until a vaccine is available, he said.
Employees might also need to wear masks or special clothing, while online orders, no-contact deliveries and curbside pickups should continue whenever possible.
"I think the new norm will become normal at some point, but that's how we have to start up is reflecting and meeting the Public Health guidelines."
There will be companies that likely won't come back from this. So we won't be naïve in the process, but our goal is to have a rebuild of our province in a way that's sustainable and long-term.- Blaine Higgs, premier
Businesses will be given adequate time to prepare, Higgs said, and none will be forced to reopen before they are ready.
"Just because we announce a sector can open, that does not mean every business in that sector will be ready to open its doors the very next day," he said.
"It is imperative they are sure they can protect employees and customers before they do so."
The government will work with businesses to determine which ones can respect the guidelines, then look at their financial situations, to determine which ones can get up and running quickly, Higgs said.
Concern about federal transfer payment
Asked whether the government will look at further aid packages, he said "there will be companies that likely won't come back from this.
"So we won't be naïve in the process, but our goal is to have a rebuild of our province in a way that's sustainable and long-term."
He questioned whether New Brunswick's transfer payment from the federal government could be in jeopardy, given the collapse of the oil industry in Alberta, which he estimated represented 30 to 40 per cent of Ottawa's revenue.
"So you know it's easy to live for today, but I am building and working with my colleagues to design a province for tomorrow."
Higgs said he expects to announce more details about recovery planning in the coming days, but cautioned it will not be business as usual "for some time."
Here is a roundup of other developments.
New web portal for test results
The province continues to test between 300 and 500 people a day for COVID-19 and has now launched a new web portal — myhealth.gnb.ca — where people tested on or after April 20 can securely access their results online as soon as they are available instead of waiting for a phone call from Public Health, said chief medical officer Dr. Jennifer Russell.
They will still receive a call from Public Health, she said, but the site will enable them to get their results faster, as soon as the tests have been processed, usually within 24 to 48 hours.
"The quicker access to test results will relieve some of the stress associated with the testing process and enable those with positive tests to take immediate actions to protect the health of their family and community."
The number of active cases is 16. Five patients are hospitalized, including one person in intensive care.
Of the 118 cases, 66 are travel-related, 42 are close contacts of confirmed cases, 10 are the result of community transmission. None remain under investigation.
Support for non-profits
Small and medium-sized non-profit groups affected by COVID-19 will soon be able to get financial help from the provincial government.
Premier Blaine Higgs announced grants of between $500 and $10,000 will be available to eligible groups, under the Community Investment Fund.
The funding is designed to address gaps in support being provided by the federal government, he said.
"Non-profit organizations and community groups in New Brunswick play a key role in the creation of dynamic communities and they will help us stimulate our economy after this pandemic," said Higgs.
He encouraged citizens who have the means to continue to support these organizations as much as possible.
Applications for the grants are available on the Regional Development Corporation's website.
Hospitals ORs at 30 per cent capacity, says medical society president
The decision to cancel elective surgeries at all hospitals in the province was the right one considering the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, says the president of the New Brunswick Medical Society Medical Society.
Hospital operating rooms are running at about 30 per cent capacity, Dr. Chris Goodyear said Tuesday.
The restriction on procedures was done to keep people out of hospital because it wasn't known how many COVID-19 cases there would be, he said.
"We were anticipating not having the beds to admit patients," said Goodyear.
Some patients are questioning the province's decision to postpone elective surgeries during the pandemic.
Fredericton's Andre Klinker said he's had his hip-replacement surgery cancelled twice and is in "unbelievable pain."
"We are going through a crisis," said Klinker.
"I get it, [but] you just can't stop treating people for ailments. There has to be another way than this drugging them to shut them up."
Goodyear said there are risks involved with any surgery, and these increase for everyone in the operating room during a pandemic.
"When the anesthesiologist intubates … the patient, those are high aerosolizing procedures that present high risk to the health-care workers in the OR," said Goodyear.
Because of those risks, patients who do undergo surgery are automatically treated as if they have COVID-19.
Some cancer surgeries are still going ahead, but they're being done with the people who have waited the longest for them.
Goodyear said it would not be feasible to designate one hospital as an elective surgery centre, because there is no way to guarantee that COVID-19 won't get into that hospital.
"The best approach is to do what we did," said Goodyear.
Premier Blaine Higgs has also defended the system adopted for the pandemic but said the government is already talking about resuming surgeries that wouldn't be considered life-saving.
Demand for support services has risen during COVID-19, says disability advocate
The New Brunswick Association for Community Living is seeing an increase in demand because of restrictions put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sarah Wagner, the executive director of the association, said many families with disabled members are struggling with the restrictions.
"This crisis has really disrupted everybody's routine but particularly for families that have a son or daughter with an intellectual or developmental disability," said Wagner.
"Our support service demand has actually ramped up significantly."
Yesterday, CBC News reported the story of Christine Roberts and her 16-year-old son Jayden, who is on the autism spectrum.
Roberts said restrictions imposed because of COVID-19, including the loss of a support worker because of physical distancing, have taken a toll on the family.
"Jayden has had the same support worker and has seen him almost religiously every week, so that was a big hit and I'm seeing it in Jayden — I seen him self-harm. That hasn't happened in years."
Wagner said the closure of schools and early childhood learning centres and the ending of support worker visits have thrown established routines out the window, which isn't helpful for people on the autism spectrum.
"For the population we support, that routine is essential," said Wagner.
Wagner said the association is conducting wellness checks and sending out care packages to the more than 300 families it supports.
She said more than 26 per cent of the population is living with a disability and often also dealing with financial difficulty.
She'd like to see more targeted government intervention.
"We would like to see things like a disability benefit specifically targeted at this population to help alleviate the cost," said Wagner.
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.
Follow instructions carefully.
- A previous version of this story said hospitals in New Brunswick are running at 30 per cent capacity. In fact, only the operating rooms are running at 30 per cent capacityApr 22, 2020 12:33 PM AT
With files from Information Morning Fredericton and Moncton