While Maine and the Canadian province of New Brunswick share many attributes — including more than 200 miles of border — the coronavirus has followed sharply different courses in the two places.
Maine has recorded 4,070 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 126 deaths, in its first five months of the pandemic. That has worked out to 31 cases per every 10,000 residents, which is the third lowest rate in the U.S. Maine also has the country’s eighth lowest rate of deaths.
But while Maine has contained the virus better than most states, its numbers have still towered over those in its neighbor to the northeast, despite similarities that include elderly populations, rural geographies, smaller cities and confirmed arrivals of the disease on nearly the same day in mid-March.
New Brunswick has recorded just 178 cases and two deaths from COVID-19, both less than 5 percent of Maine’s equivalent measures. And while the Pine Tree State has seen 31 confirmed cases per 10,000 residents, the rate in the Maritime province has been just two cases per 10,000. Now, after its success in containing the virus, New Brunswick is starting to see jobs and retail sales rebound faster than they are across the rest of Canada, according to the CBC.
The different paths of the virus — first highlighted by the Portland Press Herald in early May, and which have held steady since — probably resulted from a variety of factors, including stricter travel restrictions between Canadian provinces and a more dispersed population in New Brunswick.
Some of the difference may also spring from the wildly varying approaches the U.S. and Canada have taken, as nations, to contain the pandemic.
The U.S. was slow to ramp up testing for COVID-19, even though it’s critical to detecting and containing the virus. This summer, states across the South and West saw devastating flare-ups of the disease after lifting business restrictions before it was safe to do so, based in part on mixed messaging from President Donald Trump. The country has now recorded 158 cases and five deaths per 10,000 residents.
Canada has seen some bad outbreaks of COVID-19 in provinces such as Quebec and Ontario, according to the Washington Post. But as a whole, it was able to ramp up testing more quickly and control the virus more effectively than the U.S., recording just 33 cases and two deaths per 10,000 residents.
After New Brunswick confirmed its first case of the virus on March 11, provincial officials announced the shutdown of public schools two days later and, six days after that, issued a state of emergency that required many businesses to close. The province soon closed its borders to nonessential travel from other provinces, following a similar closure of the U.S.-Canadian border on March 20.
Maine also imposed restrictions on schools, businesses and gatherings in the days and weeks after its first COVID-19 case was detected March 12, but those measures were more gradual and less stringent. The restrictions included a recommended closure of schools to in-person classes on March 15 and an order that restaurants close to in-person dining on March 18. Gov. Janet Mills ordered non-essential businesses to close on March 24, then issued a monthlong stay-at-home order for the state a week later.
But Maine’s border with New Hampshire has been far more porous than New Brunswick’s borders with its neighboring provinces during the pandemic. Rather than close it off entirely to nonessential travelers, the state issued instructions on April 3 that out-of-state visitors self-quarantine for two weeks upon their arrival in Maine and not come here if they have COVID-19 symptoms.
“I think in part what’s going on is much, much more stringent travel restrictions” around New Brunswick, said Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “It’s just very difficult to cross provincial lines. In some areas, even cities within have just put down what’s essentially a cordon around the city.”
Shah also noted that New Brunswick has a lower population density than Maine. The Pine Tree State has roughly 40 residents per square mile compared to New Brunswick’s 26 per square mile. As a result, there’s “less chance that two individuals would interact and spread the disease,” Shah said in early August.
Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, also attributed part of her province’s low COVID-19 transmission to the stringent travel restrictions that it quickly enacted. In addition, she said that the provincial officials made a concerted effort to coordinate their decision-making with local and national counterparts and to offer clear communication to the public about the importance of social distancing, wearing masks and other measures.
“That’s another thing that allowed New Brunswickers to really hear those messages and comply and cooperate,” she said.
While the province had to navigate the challenge of multiple land borders between itself and a few other areas — Maine, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island — Russell said that it also benefited from having relatively small airports that did not receive as many international travelers as their larger counterparts in Halifax, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal early in the pandemic.
Russell also said that the universal health care coverage available to Canadian citizens could have made it easier for New Brunswick residents to access testing and treatment for COVID-19 than for someone in Maine.