For much of the COVID-19 pandemic, yellow has been the goal for New Brunswickers. In the colour-coded alert system, yellow has acted as a baseline, the phase with the least restrictions attached to it.
But comments from the province’s chief medical officer of health and the minister of health suggest that the orange alert level is likely to remain in force for some time.
Last week health minister Dorothy Shephard said that the province would remain in orange “for the foreseeable future.”
Right now every health zone, with the exception of Moncton and Edmundston, are at orange, including zones 5, 6 and 7 that have just seven active cases combined. Moncton remains at the red level, while Edmundston is approaching two weeks in lockdown.
With the detection of the B.1.1.7. variant, which was first discovered in the U.K., officials say orange is here to stay.
“I think we have a ways to go before we can relax those measures,” Dr. Jennifer Russell said at a provincial COVID-19 update on Tuesday.
“It’s hard to predict how long that’s going to be.”
That orange is being treated as the new baseline is further borne out by the removal of the yellow alert level from the provincial website and in materials being circulated by the government on social media.
According to one public health policy expert, as governments establish stricter baselines of restrictions, clear and effective communication becomes all the more important.
“It is the most important dynamic of public health,” said Robert Huish, an associate professor of international development studies at Dalhousie University.
“If a measure is going to be put in place, it needs to be clear, it needs to be simple, it needs to be understood by everyone.”
Ensuring that people understand the rules, but also that the rules themselves are consistent is key to retaining public buy-in for public health restrictions.
“What matters most is for public health officials and for people themselves in communities to support each other in following these rules,” Huish said.
“When there’s distrust in the system, when people get tired of it, when there’s no solidarity, that is when the virus takes advantage.”
Officials have yet to set out a clear timeline for when the yellow phase could return, but it appears unlikely any zone will budge from orange until the first priority group is vaccinated.
“Until we have our vulnerable populations vaccinated, we definitely will have to protect, not just the vulnerable populations, but the rollout of the vaccinations of those vulnerable populations,” Russell said.
Both Russell and Premier Higgs noted that the province is dependent on Ottawa for how quickly the vaccination program can proceed, but for now, the hope is still to have the first priority group entirely vaccinated by the end of March.