COVID-19 in Quebec: ‘There will continue to be many deaths,’ says premier, insisting spread is under control

The latest:

  • Quebec has 27,538 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,859 people have died. That’s an increase of 98 deaths.
  • There are 1,684 people in hospital, including 214 in intensive care. Here’s a guide to the numbers.
  • Public health officials confirm a third patient attendant has died — an employee at Manoir Cartierville in north-end Montreal.
  • Roadblocks leading to some Quebec regions will be removed in early May, but non-essential travel is discouraged. 
  • Manufacturers, construction sites and some retail stores will be allowed to open in early May. 
  • Daycare and elementary school open May 11 in most of the province, and a week later in the Montreal area.
  • Province renewed its declaration of a public health emergency until May 6.
  • Provincial briefings will be only three times per week, and will resume May 4.

The death rate from COVID-19 will remain very high for the foreseeable future, Quebec Premier François Legault warned Thursday, even as he sought to address criticism of his government’s plan to ease pandemic restrictions in the coming weeks. 

Legault repeated a refrain that has become common in recent days: the situation in Quebec is largely under control, long-term care homes remain a concern, and metropolitan Montreal is being watched closely.

Legault said as of Thursday, there are 4,400 seniors in care with confirmed infections. Provincial data actually puts that number considerably higher: According to the Health Ministry’s list of residences under surveillance, updated Wednesday, a total of 6,172 seniors in care have been confirmed positive for COVID-19.   

A total of 98 new deaths were recorded in the province in the past 24 hours, and 92 of those who died were residents of long-term care homes.

Legault noted that out of the province’s 2,600 seniors’ residences, around 280 have outbreaks. In many of those homes, the situation remains extremely dire — in over 20 institutions, more than half of the residents have been infected.

In the most extreme example, numbers released on Thursday show that all 192 residents of CHSLD Ste-Dorothée in Laval have been infected, and 88 people have died.

To date, 1,859 COVID-related deaths have been reported.

“We have to be realistic,” Legault said. “There will continue to be many deaths over the next days and weeks.”

He said that Quebec’s numbers were higher than other places because Quebec is testing more than most provinces and is reporting deaths outside of hospitals more thoroughly. The province has been conducting 6,000 tests per day, Legault said, but that number will reach 14,500 in the coming weeks and continue to increase.

Another orderly dies

The province’s health-care system is currently down 10,500 workers, but the government has now recruited 7,200 people through Quebec’s Je contribue website, Legault said, in addition to 1,200 students and teachers and 241 Canadian Armed Forces members. Another 276 military personnel are to join the effort soon, Legault said.

But concerns about equipment shortages persist. In Laval, a union representing nursing home orderlies purchased and distributed face shields to staff at CHSLD La Pinière, where 64 per cent of residents have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Laval’s public health department responded, saying it has enough protective equipment and that employees “should not be misled by alternative distributions of protective equipment for staff.”

However, many people at the lowest rungs of the long-term care network are afraid, seeing so many of their colleagues becoming infected. The regional health agency for Montreal’s Pointe-aux-Trembles district evacuated a private seniors’ home Wednesday, after workers there failed to turn up once a resident was confirmed positive for the virus.

And on Thursday, public health officials confirmed the death of a third patient attendant in Quebec since the start of the pandemic. The woman, whose name has not been released, was an employee at Manoir Cartierville, a long-term care home in Montreal’s north end, and had worked as an orderly, or préposée aux bénéficiaires, for over a decade.

She had tested negative for COVID-19 on April 27 but was experiencing symptoms and was in self-isolation. She died before a second test could be given, and health officials haven’t yet confirmed whether she was infected with the virus

‘Battle is not won’ in Montreal

A masked pedestrian walks past John Seward Johnson II’s similarly attired sculpture, Catching Up, on Sherbrooke Street in Westmount. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The greater Montreal area continues to far outpace other regions in the number of cases of the virus, pegged Thursday at 13,324 Thursday. Legault said the situation is “tighter” in Montreal than elsewhere.

The premier noted the worst community outbreak on the island, in one of the city’s poorest boroughs, Montréal-Nord. He said public health authorities are investigating and working to contain it.

“The battle is not won” in Montreal, he said, acknowledging issues at three Montreal hospitals that have experienced significant outbreaks. He said patients are being transferred to hotels in order to “start over” and disinfect the facilities.

“If the situation deteriorates, there will not be a reopening in Montreal,” he said. “I will not hesitate. I will not take any risks.”

At least six Montreal hospitals have reported outbreaks among patients and staff, including Lakeshore, Verdun, Maisonneuve-Rosemont, Santa-Cabrini, Sacré-Coeur and the Montreal General. 

This week, Maisonneuve-Rosemont cancelled all surgeries requiring hospitalization, after its facilities were overwhelmed by the disease and its emergency room reached above 110 per cent capacity.

Eight out of the hospital’s main 12 wards are dealing with outbreaks. The hospital had to stop accepting patients for a period of 24 hours.

The province has renewed its declaration of a public health emergency until May 6, even while it continues to move forward on plans to reopen the economy, beginning in regions of the province that have seen fewer new infections.

The government is easing travel restrictions, starting May 4. It continues to discourage non-essential travel, although a government spokesperson has said people are free to go to their cottages or secondary homes as long as they do not shop locally. Legault said Thursday the transition to unrestricted travel must be gradual.

“If we see that the situation is not under control, we’ll stop all that,” he said.

Businesses, elementary schools and daycares are also being opened gradually, beginning in those regions less impacted by the coronavirus.

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