Before the dessert, the vegetables. And not broccoli-with-cheese-sauce or sweet-potato-fries vegetables, either. Premier Stephen McNeil and NS top doc Robert Strang brought the boiled turnips to their webcast C19 briefing on Friday.
"I know many people are tired of staying home and that we all just want to see some light at the end of the tunnel," Strang said. He was about to announce the briefing’s big news, the loosening of some of the public health restrictions imposed in the fight against the coronavirus. But first he stressed that no part of this was frivolous.
"Being active outdoors," said Strang, "is important for both our physical and our mental health. And this is especially important as we're dealing with the stresses of COVID-19, the mass shooting and now the crash of the Canadian Forces helicopter. So we want people to get outside, and for those reasons. But it's really important that we all do this safely and in a way that continues to follow public health directives."
In his remarks at the start of the briefing, McNeil said "we need to get out of our heads and out of our houses and get outside. We need to feel that fresh air, a little freedom." Then the premier’s punchline. "The key word is a little."
He went further in a press release that went out before the briefing: "if we see an increase in positive cases or people not continuing to adhere to all the public health measures, the restrictions will return."
With expectations duly lowered, Strang went through the changes, then he and McNeil took questions from reporters, which clarified some of the changes. Here’s where we stand—two metres apart as always—effective 3pm Friday:
- Open: Municipal and provincial parks
- Closed: Playground equipment (so many gross surfaces!)
- Open: Trails
- Discouraged: Driving to parks and trails ("that goes for ATV users as well," said Strang)
- Closed: Beaches ("we hope to be able to open them soon")
- Open: Provincial parks with beaches
- Closed: Beaches within provincial parks
- Open: Sports fields and Halifax-area school grounds, but not Halifax Regional Municipality sports fields (after the briefing, the city said it's "not in a position to open these facilities at this time")
- Closed: Teams playing a sport on a field (a "household unit" can go to a field, as long as it doesn’t interact with another unit)
- Open: Skateparks (as long as the park the skatepark is in is open)
- Closed: Surfing from a beach (because beaches are closed)
- Open: Community gardens, garden centres and nurseries
- Closed: Picnics with friends and neighbours
- Open: Sportfishing from boats or the shore
- Closed: Fishing derbies
- Open: Golf driving ranges
- Closed: Golf courses, except for maintenance prepping to open later
- Open: Yacht clubs and marinas
- Closed: Bars and dining rooms at yacht clubs and golf courses, except for take-out
- Open: Cottages, for one household unit at a time, as long as members of the unit travel straight to the cottage and back
- Discouraged: Going back and forth from home to the cottage "frequently"
- Closed: Cottage rentals (McNeil: "we would be potentially bringing that virus in and out every weekend")
- Closed: Campgrounds, both private and provincial, except for maintenance and RVs that park at a private campground year-round (those are treated like cottages)
- Open: Drive-in religious services, with cars parked at least two metres apart
- Closed: Passing a collection plate, serving communion or any other kind of interaction between people at the drive-in service
It takes more than list of do’s and don’ts to ease restrictions, however. Common sense is vital too. Strang referred to it seven times in less than an hour.
1. "If people do need to drive within their community to get to a park or trail, it’s important to not create crowded parking lots or roadsides. If there's already a significant number of cars there, please don't stop. Go somewhere else. We're opening these up, but we need to be safe, we need to use good common sense about how much we congregate together. For COVID-19 to spread people need to come together."
2. "We need to respect the rules and and also use our common sense so we're shopping safely."
3. "We all need to practice good, common sense and looking out for one another."
4. "Ultimately we're asking people to do their best, whether it's legally required or whether it's a strong encouragement and advice. Please do your best and use common sense."
5. "Can we all work together, use our common sense and be reasonable about this?"
6. "What we're hearing and seeing in communities about compliance and acting in a common-sense and responsible manner, versus what we're seeing in our disease activity over the next year."
7. "There’s lots of questions people may have, and I would ask people just to think your way through it, use your common sense."
After Strang’s appeal to our collective wisdom, McNeil took a different, harsh tack as the briefing wound down. "This is not a free pass to full freedom," he said.
Despite any rule loosening, the basic public health protocols of standing apart, near-constant hand washing and no co-mingling of different households are still in effect, including on a trail, at the marina or skateboarding. "We need to know it can work before we can do more. Don’t look for loopholes and don't bend the rules."
But then he tacked again. "I believe in this province, but our strength is not only our physical health, it is your mental health too. They go hand in hand," the premier said. "It is critical that we, as a province, look after our individual and our collective mental health as we continue to move looking after COVID-19.
"So take time this weekend, to do something for you and for your family. You've earned it."