New Brunswickers living near the Nova Scotia border are calling for changes to travel restrictions they say are leading to missed medical appointments and confusion over custody arrangements.
The province rolled out tighter rules on Jan. 8, including new isolation and testing requirements. Now residents of border communities are required to isolate after crossing for medical care in Amherst, N.S.
Megan Mitton, the MLA for Memramcook-Tantramar, said the changes are making life difficult for people in the area. Her office is getting constant calls and emails from people seeking help navigating the rules.
"Everyone involved is frustrated that the rules continue to be unclear, continue to be inconsistently enforced, and don't take into account the reality of what people are experiencing here," Mitton said.
The communities of Sackville and Amherst — about 20 minutes apart — have long been intertwined. Residents typically go back and forth for work, school, to see family, or visit the hospital.
But the pandemic has made those frequent trips much more challenging, confusing and sometimes impossible.
Cancelling medical appointments
Angela Forrester lives near the Nova Scotia border in Port Elgin, N.B. and normally goes to Amherst for banking and buying groceries.
Before the tighter rules, she was able to get a medical pass to travel for physiotherapy, massage therapy, doctors visits and tests at the hospital.
Forrester applied for approval to attend an appointment when the changes were rolled out, but was forced to cancel because she didn't get a response in time. She finally heard back from the New Brunswick government telling her she could go — but only with self-isolation upon her return.
"I'm probably going to start to be in pain because my job is very physically demanding and I need these appointments," she said.
"Living along this border has been an extra level of frustration."
Mitton said she's hearing from others who are also cancelling appointments, going to the emergency room or scrambling to try to transfer care to Moncton.
"Sometimes people have waited a year and a half for an important medical test, and now they don't know what to do and how the rules are going to impact them," she said.
Some people hadn't heard the new rules had gone into effect and received isolation orders after attending a regular appointment in Amherst.
"Living along this border has an extra level of frustration." - Angela Forrester, resident of Port Elgin, N.B.
A spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, which enforces travel restrictions, said people travelling to Nova Scotia can follow "work isolation" when returning to New Brunswick. That means isolation can be shortened by a few days with two negative tests on day seven and day 10-12.
Forrester owns a pet grooming business and estimates she's losing about 30% each month without Nova Scotia customers. Daily cross-border commuters are permitted to enter New Brunswick without isolation, but they need to go directly to work and can't make any stops.
With the border closed, Forrester applied for a work pass to be able to work as a pet groomer in Amherst and was approved on Sunday after several unsuccessful tries.
Confusion over testing rules
Under the new restrictions, weekly testing is required for children in custody agreements or entering New Brunswick to attend school. But Sackville doesn't seem to have a testing site, requiring travel to Moncton at a location with limited hours.
That's a problem for Amanda Furlong. Her 6-year-old son visits his father in Oxford, N.S.
She doesn't have a car to bring her son to Moncton and isn't sure how she could get him there each week.
"With kids they don't understand at all, they don't know what's going on," she said. "So it's not fair to them."
Furlong said she called Public Health to try to figure out the new rules for her son crossing the border last week, and didn't hear back. He's returning Tuesday.
It is unclear if parents of children crossing the border also need to get tested. A Public Safety spokesperson did not respond to a question asking for clarification.
Mitton, the area MLA, said the rules designed for Quebec and Maine don't meet the circumstances of people living near Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. She wants all residents with essential reasons to be exempt from isolation and mandatory testing.
"The burden that's being put on families to have the weekly testing when there's not even a testing site in our community, that's really difficult," she said.
Nova Scotia has only 25 active cases of COVID-19 and Prince Edward Island has 10, as of Monday.
'A world away'
Nicole Burke lives in Sackville, just minutes away from her parents in Fort Lawrence, N.S., the first community on the other side of the provincial border.
"It's one highway exit away and it feels like it's a world away when these regulations are in place," she said.
The change has been noticeable for the esthetician, who has seen a big drop in clients since the Nova Scotia border closed.
As a single mother, Burke said her parents are her support system for taking care of her eight-year-old daughter.
She said the new rules are confusing and she's not sure if her daughter would be allowed to cross. Even if the province approves cross border travel, weekly testing is required for childcare.
"It's causing her anxiety to think when she's going to be able to see her grandparents again," she said. "Tears come to her eyes and it's heartbreaking."