The extraordinary measures put in place by the provincial and federal governments in an attempt to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus have been evolving by the hour. The Valley, like every other region across the province, has been reacting and adapting to these measures as they are announced. Local municipalities, schools, health care services, businesses, organizations and citizens have all been put on high alert and are all working to cope with this fluid situation.
At the moment, all public events have been cancelled into the month of April. Students are not expected to return to class before the end of the month, if then, and everyone is being asked to practice social distancing, which entails keeping a minimum distance of 1 metre from the person next to you. The offices of the MRC du Haut-Saint-Laurent are presently closed to the public, as are the Municipal Court and the collections office, until April 1. Employees in the collections office, however, will be on hand to take any calls and to accept payments of fines over the phone according to the usual work schedule, which is Monday to Thursday from 8 am to noon and from 1 to 4:30 pm. On Friday the office closes at 12:30 pm.
Each municipality is responding to the emergency measures put in place in a different fashion depending on services offered to their respective populations. All municipal and public sports, recreational and cultural activities, and buildings are closed for at least the next two weeks, including libraries, the regional arena, the Alfred Langevin Cultural Hall and even sugar shacks. Some municipalities have made the decision to close their offices to the public while others remain open but with special measures in place with the security of employees in mind. Many are no longer accepting the payment of municipal taxes in person or in cash, preferring rather than citizens pay by phone or over the internet. At this time, it is recommended that residents call their municipality ahead of time with any questions.
The offices for Huntingdon MNA Claire IsaBelle are currently closed to the public, but the deputy as well as her team remain available over the phone (450-427-2150) and by email (Claire.IsaBelle.Hunt@assnat.qc.ca). Likewise, federal MP for Salaberry-Suroît Claude DeBellefeuille and her team have closed their offices to the public except in emergency cases, where citizens may be seen by appointment only. Citizens may also contact the deputy and her team by phone (450-371-0644) or email (Claude.DeBellefeuille@parl.gc.ca).
Several of the schools, which are now closed to students, have been converted into makeshift childcare facilities for the school-age children of essential service workers in the region as determined by the government. Early childhood education centres also remain open to care for younger children of those employed in the health and social services, as well as police, firefighters, ambulance drivers, correctional services officers or special constables), those working in private professional practices, pharmacies, pre-hospital emergency services, 811 and 911 workers, persons providing home services to seniors and who are employed by ESAADs (social economy enterprises providing home assistance).
For the moment, the overall school year has not been affected by the emergency measures that last Friday saw all classes cancelled for two weeks. As such, the days taken now will not have to be made up at the end of the year. Teachers are not expected to be providing lessons or to be teaching online, as the province is simply not equipped for this type of service. Parents’ social media accounts likely blew up this week with suggestions of activities and things to do with bored kids over the next two weeks, from educational programming to virtual tours and enough streaming content to meet all interests.
Bars and most gathering places are now closed. However, many local restaurants remain open but with fewer staff, reduced hours, and under orders from the provincial government to operate at only 50 per cent capacity at any time. Several are now offering takeout as an attractive option and are going out of their way to ensure the cleanliness of their establishments. For people not willing to eat out at this time, purchasing gift cards and certificates will help keep smaller businesses afloat. The provincial government also announced this afternoon (Monday, March 16) a comprehensive package to provide financial help for independent businesses and self-employed individuals. The federal government is expected as well to unveil measures it will take to ensure that all Canadians are able to cope financially with self-isolation and the possibility of quarantine in the face of illness.
As stress levels start to rise, governments have encouraged all citizens to remember that we are in this together and that at this time there is no risk to supply chains, and therefore no reason to hoard food or supplies. At the same time, it is important to remember that these extreme measures are at their root an inherently hopeful act of community that will help to slow the spread of this virus and give our health care system the chance that it needs to keep all of us well. We will get through this.
For more information on COVID-19, questions or if you are experiencing any of the symptoms, which include fever, coughing, sore throat and shortness of breath, please call this toll free number: 1-877-644-4545.