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 greatly affected by these measures. 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. Students are not expected to return to class before the month of May, if then, and everyone is being required to practice social distancing. Our federal government, in partnership with the United States government, agreed to close the border to all non-essential travel, and Canadians abroad have been told to come home as quickly as possible. International flights are restricted to four airports in Canada, including Pierre Elliot Trudeau in Montreal. Quebecers are being asked to avoid interprovincial and even inter-regional travel within the province.
The offices of the MRC du Haut-Saint-Laurent are presently closed to the public, as are the Municipal Court and the collections office. Employees in the collections office, however, will be on hand according to the usual work schedule to take calls and to accept payments of fines over the phone.
All municipal and public sports, recreational and cultural activities and buildings are closed, including libraries, the regional arena, and the Alfred Langevin Cultural Hall in Huntingdon. Municipal offices are still operating but most are closed to the public. Many are no longer accepting the payment of municipal taxes in person or in cash, preferring rather that citizens pay by phone or over the internet. The municipal by-election scheduled for March 29 in Godmanchester has been postponed to a future date.
The offices of 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, the 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 seven days a week between 8 am and 7:30 pm by phone (450-371-0644) or email (Claude.DeBellefeuille@parl.gc.ca).
The New Frontiers School Board is currently closed to the public; however, it is operational with a reduced staff as many are working from home. Heritage Elementary in Huntingdon, Gault Institute in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, and Mary Gardner School in Chateauguay are currently operating as childcare centres for the school-age children of essential service workers. The Commission Scolaire de la Vallée-des-Tisserands has opened childcare centres at École Notre-Dame du Rosaire in Ormstown and École Montpetit in Saint-Chrysostome, among others in Valleyfield, Beauharnois, and Sainte-Martine. Early childhood education centres also remain open to care for younger children of essential service workers.
All schools, CEGEPs and universities are now closed until at least May 1. There will be no ministerial exams this year, and if schools are not reopened on May 4 teachers will be asked to evaluate students based on their first two report cards. The Ministry of Education will launch a collection of online resources for students on March 30, and is promising to provide parents with a list of activities by grade level by April 6. The government has assured parents they are not expected to become teachers, and that all resources and activities provided will not be considered mandatory.
Walk-in medical services are no longer available and clinics are screening patients, even those with appointments, to ensure they are not symptomatic. It is strongly recommended that emergency rooms be avoided. All but emergency dental services are also no longer available.
The government has prohibited all non-essential visits to hospitals as well as residential and long-term care facilities, and those over the age of 70 have been urged to stay home. Phone visits with elderly relatives are highly recommended, and those looking out for neighbours are asked to check-in by phone. Churches have suspended worship services and all celebrations including weddings and funerals are now being strongly cautioned against.
All indoor and outdoor gatherings have now been forbidden in the province. Bars are now closed, as well as dine-in restaurants. Some restaurants may remain open but are restricted to offering takeout or drive-thru services. All shopping malls have been ordered closed, with only grocery stores, pharmacies and SAQ outlets with separate entrances being allowed to remain open. Hairdressers, beauty salons and barber shops have also been asked to close. Police have been given more containment powers to make sure measures are respected.
The provincial government has announced a comprehensive package to provide financial help for independent businesses and self-employed individuals. The federal government also unveiled measures to ensure that all Canadians are able to cope financially with self-isolation and the possibility of quarantine in the face of illness. A number of financial institutions are restricting access to in-person services and requesting that people prioritize telebanking or online banking.
As stress levels rise, governments have encouraged all citizens to remember there is no risk to supply chains, and therefore no reason to hoard food or other supplies. 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.