Top Atlantic medical officials discuss the future of COVID-19 restrictions in an online panel

Atlantic provinces should consider a more targeted approach to COVID-19 restrictions to reduce “unintended consequences” for the economy and public health, according to some top regional medical officials.

As COVID-19 cases increase outside the Atlantic bubble, the Big Four health officials from each Atlantic county warned the public in an online discussion Thursday night not to remain “vigilant” in order to fend off a potential second wave in the East Coast.

Dr Robert Strang, the chief medical officer for health in Nova Scotia, said a broad lockdown should be avoided if possible.

“Now that we know a lot about how the virus spreads, what kinds of restrictions are required? And which ones are not absolutely necessary?” Strang said during a panel discussion on lessons learned from the epidemic hosted by Dalhousie University.

“If we have to strengthen our public health measures again, our goal is to do so on the basis of good local epidemiology and, if possible, avoid a widespread lockdown.”

Dr. Robert Strang is the Chief Medical Officer of Health in Nova Scotia. (Dave Laughlin / CBC)

He said that could mean a more focused and targeted response to a specific geographic area, a specific subpopulation or specific places with a higher risk of spreading the virus.

“We have to learn to live with COVID-19. We can never maintain a lockdown in the spring. We tolerate a certain level of transmission. We have to tolerate a certain level of risk from COVID, and it’s all about finding a balance,” he said.

“What is the necessary balance to control COVID, but also the right balance that allows us to reduce the damage from all other consequences that happen if we have very severe restrictions.”

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald is the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Newfoundland and Labrador. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald of Newfoundland and Labrador also said that more attention should be paid to the “unintended consequences” of emergency restrictions and a “more careful approach” should be used when reviewing them.

In addition to the economic downturn, she said the measures have had a negative impact on mental health – particularly in long-term care homes – as well as reorganizing the healthcare system leading to a backlog of work on tests, treatments, procedures, and the deployment of government resources and personnel to manage the COVID-19 crisis.

The future of the bubble

The Big Four health officials from each Atlantic county explained in an online discussion Thursday night how the region successfully coped with the first wave of the epidemic and what the public should expect in the coming months.

According to Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief health official in New Brunswick, the public should know that officials “are not in a hurry” to relax restrictions at borders and, if necessary, step up public health measures.

“We have a great interest in successfully continuing the downward path that we have taken so far in terms of avoiding an outbreak and scaling up at the present time with success,” Russell said.

Dr. Jennifer Russell is the Chief Medical Officer of Health in New Brunswick. (Jonathan Collecott / CBC)

“With the increase in numbers in the areas around us, it becomes more difficult.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to avoid the wave completely, but my God, we really have to manage it aggressively if a wave outbreak occurs and when it does.”

Russell said the county had previously moved quickly to reduce the risk of a large-scale outbreak. New Brunswick recently Get back the travel exemptions For two Quebec provinces bordering the northern part of the province, restrictions were tightened on the Campbellton Health District during the summer outbreak that resulted in more than 40 cases and the only two deaths in the province.

Knowing the capacity of the healthcare system, Russell said a similar sudden increase in other Canadian hotspots would devastate the system and the regional economy.

She said: “If the disease breaks out in one of the Atlantic provinces, we will discuss re-imposing border measures between the Atlantic provinces, which we do not want to do as well.” “So, there is a collective need to keep the Atlantic bubble protected from disease outbreaks … because our resources are so limited.”

‘Good health is good economics’

Strang struck a similar accent.

“We may not need to reinforce things yet, but we definitely need to be very careful about keeping things up to the restrictions imposed on gatherings, especially the gender of juveniles, as well as getting everyone, as much as possible, to take personal protection measures.”

“This is how we keep ourselves in this safe place.”

Strang indicated that it would be a concern for those keen to see a full economic recovery sooner rather than later, but he said, stealing a line from Nova Scotia Deputy Business Secretary Bernie Miller, “Good health is good economics.”

“If we remain severely constrained and go beyond the next six to nine months, we are in a position to actually enable an economic recovery much sooner than many other jurisdictions that have overwhelmed it,” he said.

Maintaining confidence

Every doctor has emphasized the importance of gaining public confidence and acceptance of public health and emergency measures since the lockdown in March.

Dr Heather Morrison from Prince Edward Island said: “They change the messages, it’s difficult messages and trying to communicate that was really key and the honesty and trust that goes along with that.”

Dr. Heather Morrison is the Principal Medical Officer of Health for Prince Edward Island. (CBC)

Fitzgerald praised district policymakers as well as often acquiescing in public health experts.

“He gave us consistency in our messaging, which is really important, and he’s assured us that, for the most part, our decisions are made based on evidence and science,” Fitzgerald said.

“I think this is really important to ensure we keep asking people for their confidence and keep giving it to us.”

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