As more covid-19 cases are confirmed each day in Canada, many people in Atlantic Canada are taking precautions to avoid its spread – while acknowledging it could be an inevitability.
In Fredericton, health officials are preparing for the worst.
“This is a rapidly evolving situation, and so there are very, very select destinations where people may be asked to stay at home as soon as they come home from that destination,” says New Brunswick Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Cristin Muecke. “Suspected cases can only be confirmed through the national centre for disease control in Winnipeg.”
Eleven samples have been sent from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick; however, none have tested positive. Neither province will announce presumptive cases of covid-19 – only confirmed cases will be made public.
“There's very active discussions going on about making sure that we're not overwhelming emergency rooms with cases that can be managed in another manner,” says Muecke.
Horizon Health has run audits on its hospitals to check supplies, resources and infection control protocols, noting "Horizon also has a total of 35 isolation rooms in place across our network, while our emergency departments utilize severe acute respiratory infection screening protocols on any patients who may present with these symptoms."
Vitalité Health Network says information concerning its preparedness will be released in the coming days.
The Nova Scotia Health Authority is creating a patient screening process for health care workers if patients have virus-like symptoms. NSHA is prepared to isolate people, but not necessarily in ERs.
“Should there be an influx and a large spike in the number of cases, we wouldn’t necessarily continue to leverage emergency departments for this purpose,” says NS Health Minister Randy Delorey. “So, they're planning the contingency for how and where they would respond; but again, we're not near that point of having to pull the trigger and execute that part of the plan.”
Meanwhile, MLAs in New Brunswick were briefed by the department of health on Tuesday afternoon and made their concerns evident.
“I really want to understand what their preparations are,” says Green Party leader, David Coon. “It's important that those be shared with the public so that people have a high level of confidence.”
“What is government doing? What is public health doing to prepare for it?” says People's Alliance leader, Kris Austin. “Because I think by all indications, it's not a matter of if it comes – but when it's going to hit New Brunswick.”
Potential travel bans
Amidst coronavirus worries, some high schools in the Maritimes have postponed or cancelled international student trips – leading Nova Scotia's education minister to consider a province-wide ban.
Zach Churchill says the Regional Centre for Education will meet Tuesday and Wednesday with school principals to discuss travelling abroad. Churchill says the province will decide soon on overseas travels for Nova Scotia high schools during the coronavirus outbreak.
Cancelling all trips, province-wide, is an option he's considering, but has yet to make a decision about."
Which schools are going where?
Despite the debate, some schools have made the decision for themselves.
Prince Andrew High School has removed Italy from its school trip itinerary, but students will still visit France and Spain.
Nova Scotia's French school board, C-SAP, recently pulled the plug on all school trips abroad.
Meanwhile, Cole Harbour High School's trip is still happening – until further notice.
“We’re six days out from the trip,” says the parent of a Cole Harbour High School student, Ian Hape. “My whole concern here is no one is making a decision, and no one is informing the parents; we're getting posts on Facebook."
Working together to keep students safe
EF Educational Tours, the company that organizes school trips abroad, states:
“The health and safety of our travellers and staff has been our top priority for more than 55 years. We are closely monitoring the COVID-19 outbreak and are in constant communication with our offices in the affected areas and around the world. In addition, we are actively following the guidance of all relevant health authorities. We will continue to work with our groups, their schools, and individual families as best we can to provide flexible options as needed to ensure that every student gets to have an educational travel experience.”
Meanwhile, Churchill notes if the province does cancel trips because of coronavirus, he wants to ensure insurance and other options are available to protect families from losing money.