Do fences make good neighbours? When COVID’s around.

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.

New Brunswick’s closed borders showing in red. Meanwhile Pond Inlet on the north shore of Baffin Island has its first case.

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.

 

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18 Responses to Do fences make good neighbours? When COVID’s around.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks very much, Educator. It seems to continue to be true, judging from the new cases in NZ coming from outside their borders. Such a challenging time for all.

  1. Paulie says:

    It’s May 13th and the United States is in the process of unraveling in response to COVID-19.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Sadly, the unraveling does seem to be happening, and that is a bad thing for all Americans and for the rest of the world as well. There are no winners, only losers, but of course some are far worse losers than others. We will continue to hope that somehow this gets turned around.

  2. Roy McCarthy says:

    Why does no one in the UK go to Quebec?

    I guess essential goods can still cross your provincial borders, though we’ve now proved that much business generally can continue without physical presence.

    Meanwhile the likes of the UK and Ireland still have open borders which I find strange, but they’ve clearly considered these matters. And Jersey (CI) has just three lifeline flights in and out per week, and you need to have good reason to travel. It seems to be working but our tourism is dead in the water until next year at earliest.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Those were all people who came down with COVID after coming back from traveling, which was most likely during their March Break. I can assure you that nobody would come to Canada as a tourist in March, so those would be 99% Canadians returning from holidays, hence all the Caribbean destinations! Yes, for sure, all essential travel can cross, which are truck deliveries and people who work in the other juridiction. Re Ireland, I agree. It’s bizarre. I read that there are some hotspots near the border. I don’t get it either. Re tourism, that may be the sector that’s hit the worst. Planes, hotels, restaurants, wow. It’s hard to wrap your head around the scope of the devastation.

  3. dfolstad58 says:

    Thank you Robby or should I say Jane 😇for your lovely post. I thought it was very informative and it had a nice tone. I like the way you talked about safety. I thought it was neat when you expressed that the COVID-19 virus was patiently waiting for a slip up. I’m glad to hear New Brunswick is doing so well. Definitely New Brunswick is a place I would ❤️to visit. I really wasn’t aware of restrictions between provinces so that was news to me, good to know. The map was worth a thousand words. -David

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, David. You can definitely call me Jane! I’m not sure if all provincial borders are closed. I know that all the ones from NS to the ON-MB border are closed. I think the others are, but if they don’t have checkpoints it won’t really work. We now have no active cases at all, and aside from continuing with social distancing and encouraging masks in stores that are open keeping our borders tightly closed is our biggest management policy, with good reason. What a strange world we’re living in! But once borders are open, NB will welcome you with open arms.

  4. Thanks Jane for another well researched article. The one stat here that sticks out for me is the difference in travel related case within Quebec and Ontario which really speaks to the cultural differences of these close neighbours. Another one you haven’t mentioned is the big differences in infections between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and since I Live in NS and you in NB I have delved into a little but can’t seem to find the reasons. Now you have another mission!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for bringing that up, Wayne. Even Newfoundland has substantially more than we do, but I think an ill-considered funeral gathering was the root cause of that. We’ve wondered about the significant difference in NS. We think one thing that worked in our favour was that our March Break was 2 weeks before yours and Ontario’s. People who travelled from here were back by March 8. And our Education Minister asked anyone who’d been away, including teachers, to stay home for 2 weeks, which was very controversial. Of course everything was shut down shortly after that and our Minister was proved correct. The other thing is that Halifax’s airport’s more of a central departure/arrival spot than any of our smaller ones. It seems like once the virus arrives, without early testing and contact tracing it can take off pretty fast with no-one knowing. Ours started slowly enough from a few travellers that contact tracing was possible. Lots of luck on top of the diligence.

  5. So smart and so true. One of our highways that is on the border between California and Arizona keeps being shut down on busy days and has been going on for awhile now, but we still keep getting out of state visitors.

    Up north in the small mountain town where we have our vacation home they started getting cases of the virus when the non-locals started showing up. We are still here in the city but if and when we decide to head up we will not be stopping at any stores, or visiting anyone. It will be a straight there and straight back from one home to another, just to check on things and see how the place weathered the Winter months.

    Here in the US they also have different methods on quarantines depending on whether you are in a red state or blue state. Some states did not take virus seriously in the beginning because they choose to make it all about politics, when it should be about people and saving lives, not politics.

    Anyway, there are some rules that are very extreme like not being able to fish or buy seeds for gardening but getting nails and hair done is okay…so strange. In Arizona we can get our nails done, we can go hiking and to parks, but the campsites and lakes are closed. People are still driving to the woods though.

    Most stores are open for drive through pick ups that you order and pay for on line if you want. Medicine is also delivered from local drug stores. They closed our schools down in early March and decided to keep them closed for the rest of the year.

    My family and I decided to stay in and take this virus seriously from the very beginning but we still see some neighbors go out every day, sometimes several times shopping or who knows what for because a lot of businesses are closed. Anyway, everyone has their own levels of accepting what is going on so we never judge or get angry, we just know to stay away when they call us over because they are exposing themselves to the outside more.

    Stay safe and stay home, you are doing it right. We all have to take baby steps when we start going back out there and always be extra careful in the early stages and from now on. Herd immunity has not taken effect in most areas because of all the lock downs and we need to get a better idea on antibodies from people with more testing before we can get at a level of understanding what we are dealing with when we do try to go back to what it used to be like within this new environment.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for explaining how complicated this can be. It sure can’t be easy to be in charge of these kinds of decisions these days. Needless to say, you and I agree. I am very glad that during this terrible time our politicians are more or less singing from the same song sheet and are in every case presenting a calm, serious, clear, empathetic and responsible message. Nothing partisan. It’s not always that way!

      When there are so many conflicting views and messages, you are doing the very best thing for yourself, your family, and also everyone else by following the path you’ve set for yourself. Interestingly, despite what we read in some US media, according to public polls an overwhelming majority of Americans think the strict rules should stay in place. They are fearful of things open up too fast. They are smart! 😊

  6. I had no idea the provinces had taken up such measures; that’s really critical and important. They tried to do that here in Florida about five weeks ago, but honestly it was short-lived and most likely aimed at one population group in particular: New Yorkers. I’m slightly envious to see citizens who for the most part support their local government. Yet another reason why I admire Canada. – Marty

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Yes, Canadians are for the most part more of a rule of law and good govt kind of people. Even when we don’t agree on what that means, we agree on the principle! But speaking of NY, both Quebec and Ontario border on New York. At some point they will have to explain how their infections got so out of control. New York State on its own has more cases and nearly as many deaths as any one country in the world (except, obviously, its own country). There are other cities as big as NYC. So sad.

  7. Those are interesting figures, which I had not seen before. A very interesting piece as always.

  8. Jayne Nicki says:

    Very interesting to see the travel history

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    • Jane Fritz says:

      That’s what I thought. Of course it would be a short list if we had one for New Brunswick, but it’d still be interesting to see. Maybe the DR, Ontario, and Quebec?!

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