For those of you not schooled in Robert Frost’s poetry, the title of this post refers to his famous poem called Mending Wall. Of course, the point of Frost’s poem, with which I happen to usually agree completely, is that walls and fences do more to build misunderstandings and harm relationships than any good that comes out of them, except of course for keeping cattle and dogs in the right pasture or yard. But his neighbour’s opinion, repeated throughout the poem – good fences make good neighbours – is not only appropriate but essential during a pandemic. To keep out cattle, dogs, and especially the coronavirus! I am a strident globalist for most things; I firmly believe that we can do far more working together than separately, and that the only way we get to know how similar our needs and values are is by breaking down barriers. But just for the moment these need to be literal barriers rather than physical ones. In order to protect lives we can work together without a physical presence, as many of us have been finding out.
I happen to live in a small province in eastern Canada whose small population (~770,000) is spread out across many small towns and villages rather than in a few larger urban centres. We have managed, partly by good management and public cooperation and partly by luck, to have had no deaths to COVID-19, only 118 cases, and no new cases for 13 straight days as of today. Even more importantly, our government and our population understand that this battle is far from over. Social distancing shall remain in place for a long time to come, no large gatherings will be permitted until at least the New Year, and business will be opened very slowly according to very responsible guidelines. We are all proud of our government for how well it has done, including closing down schools early in March.
I bring up the Fences metaphor because of the way Canadian provinces have handled travel between their sister provinces. Some COVID-19 management in Canada is quite different from that in the United States: border controls have been put up between most provinces, just as border controls have been instituted between countries in Europe during the pandemic. This is a critical distinction from the U.S. Only essential traffic is permitted to cross to a different province and, except for exempted travelers like essential workers who go back home every night, if you are allowed to pass through one province on your way to another for a special reason, you have to self-quarantine for 14 days in every new province you enter. As you can imagine, as a result there is little cross-province travel going on.
Most of us consider this key to containing the spread of the virus, the spread of which we are simply containing through our social distancing measures, not killing it. The virus hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s just waiting to spread some more.
Our little out-of-the-way province is bounded by the state of Maine and the provinces of Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island (PEI). Those borders are all closed and I think we would be united in saying that we want the borders with Maine, Quebec, and Nova Scotia to stay closed until there is a clear understanding that the virus is under control, until it is squashed. Nova Scotia actually closed their borders before we did. PEI has a record with the virus similar to ours, but they have already announced that their borders are remaining closed. Think of it as social distancing between provinces.
To give an example of where the virus has come from outside of our provinces, it’s from many places, although not China. And it’s not good news for travelling in the U.S. As reported in The National Post, infected travelers from the following countries brought the virus to our largest provinces, Ontario (where they’ve had 16,608 cases and 1121 deaths to date) and Quebec (where they’ve had to date 27,538 cases and 1,859 deaths, with a large majority of these having been in nursing homes).
Wherever you live, please remain vigilant, even if and when you go back to work, shop, and eat in restaurants. COVID-19 is waiting patiently for activity to pick up. Just when you think you’ve squashed your curve, like we have at least temporarily in New Brunswick, it can pop up again. Canada’s very remote northern territory of Nunavut had no cases at all … until yesterday. If the virus can make its way to Pond Inlet on the north shore of Baffin Island, it can make it anywhere. Think long and hard before you travel to another town, state, province, or country. You don’t know who you might be infecting without realizing it.
Stay home. Stay safe.