Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart says that even though the doors of her constituency office are not open to the public, work continues, with she and her staff fielding calls from constituents and small business owners who have questions and concerns about the COVID-19 virus.
“Absolutely we’re getting calls,” she says. “Staff are in the office on the days we’re usually open, dealing with constituency files, and I’m working from home. We’re getting lots of phone calls and emails, and doing lots of teleconferencing. We’ll continue with this until the Provincial Health Officer (PHO) says different behaviour is appropriate.”
Tegart adds that there is a lot of information available, which she and her staff are giving links to, but that they’re being careful not give out incorrect information or interpret things. “There’s information from the BC Centre for Disease Control, and postings about federal programs. We’re sharing what’s coming out, but not interpreting it.”
She notes that many people are concerned about directions being given by the PHO about things such as public gatherings and physical distancing, and whether those directions are being taken seriously.
“My feeling is that most people are very, very serious about what we’re hearing from [PHO Dr. Bonnie Henry]. She’s taken the lead on the file and she’s very credible. We should be following her advice. Municipalities have been asked to enforce those rules via bylaw officers, and places that don’t have [bylaw officers] have alternatives. We need to make sure people have the appropriate information and are following that.
“I look back a few weeks to where we are today. What started as suggestions about things like self-isolating have become the rule of law, and I think people have been very good about taking that information and following it carefully.”
Tegart feels that the provincial government has been right to let Henry take the lead.
“She’s an expert, and her messages are clear and concise. A lot of people have expressed confidence in the way messages are being shared daily. [Liberal MLA] Norm Letnick has been working closely with [health minister] Adrian Dix and Bonnie Henry, with conference calls daily or every second day, so we’re well aware of how things are being implemented.”
Tegart and her staff have been very thoughtful about the concerns constituents are expressing, and she is making sure that government is getting the messages about health, economic, and community issues. She adds that she is also hearing from people who are concerned about their small businesses and those who are being laid off.
“They want to know where they can go for information. It seems there are new announcements every day, and we’re trying to direct people to the appropriate information source.”
Lack of computer and Internet access is an issue, however, and a real weakness in some rural areas.
“There seems to be an assumption that everyone in Canada has access to the Internet. You do see programs where people can phone in, but we’re also hearing that the capacity to take the number of people applying has been difficult. People are frustrated, and we’re encouraging them to be patient.”
Tegart says her experience so far has been that the COVID-19 pandemic does not distinguish urban from rural.
“It goes where it wants. My interaction with Interior Health is that they’re doing good planning, and that the people on the front lines are as prepared as possible. There’s comfort in knowing that kind of planning is going on, whether you’re in an urban or a rural centre.”
She points out, however, that many rural areas are recreation grounds or vacation homes for people with second properties, and that the message around them is pretty clear.
“People are being asked to stay at home. Many rural communities don’t have health care services for an influx of 5,000 people. The government has let people know that the expectation is that you stay in your primary home, as tough as it is to do that.
“The pandemic is an invisible thing, so we don’t see it all around us. You don’t want to be the person who spreads that.”
She admits that she is also finding it tough to stay at home these days. “But I’m learning all kinds of new technology, new ways to connect with people, new ways to do meetings. I miss the person-to-person contact, but I suspect we’ll appreciate each other much more when this ends.”
People are being innovative and finding ways to deal with the situation, but she feels that it will be important to do a debriefing after this is over, to find out what worked and what didn’t. “God forbid we go through this again, but we can learn from this.”
She also says she is hearing a lot of positive things from people.
“It’s been a long time since we as families have done things just with our families. Parents are being very innovative and kids are being creative. It’s a time for people to reflect on what has happened, how they’re feeling. We’re used to things happening so fast. Parents are so busy with sports, school, etc., and now a game of cards, a jigsaw puzzle, a game of tag in the back yard is the new normal. It will be interesting to see what comes out of this.
“Hopefully everyone stays healthy, and we get a new understanding of how important family is.”
Tegart says that with COVID-19 we are all in a new landscape. “This is a new world. It’s pretty clear we’ll be in this for a while. If people can be patient, we can flatten the curve, and we’ll get through this together. But I want to reiterate how important it is for people to stay home.
“The toughest thing is being at home thinking you should be doing something. What Bonnie Henry is asking is that you stay home, wash your hands, don’t panic. Reach out to people vie the phone, the Internet, online, and be safe.”