With COVID-19 surging, Quebec health minister calls on entire province to stay home

Following a sharp increase in deaths and hospitalizations, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé is calling on all Quebecers to stay home, regardless of the alert level in their region.

Quebec broke another record Tuesday, reporting 1,364 new cases — the highest single-day total ever reported in the province. It was the fifth consecutive day with more than 1,000 cases recorded. 

More than 200 of those new cases were in Quebec City while the Montérégie had 223 and Montreal 442. 

Dubé said that, contrary to the first wave of the pandemic, which was concentrated in Montreal, the entire province is feeling the impact this time, and more regions could be dubbed “red zones” — the highest alert level — later this week. 

“Today’s numbers and tomorrow’s numbers are the results of the last 10 days,” Dubé said. 

“It’s important to understand that. So if they’re even worse tomorrow and even worse the day after that, it’s because of what we saw at Tam-Tams a few days back.” 

Dubé was referring to the popular weekly Sunday gathering at the foot of Mount Royal in Montreal as an example, but he said gatherings across the province have been an issue, and that’s another factor that makes this wave even harder to control than the first.

The increase in deaths and hospitalizations is stemming largely from community transmission, he said, as opposed to the first wave, where most cases were associated with long-term care homes. 

“This time is totally different, totally different,” said Dubé. “It is very difficult to say where you got it.” 

While some experts have argued the province should have acted sooner in imposing restrictions, Dubé said the government did all it could to prepare for a second wave. He blamed the increase in cases on people not taking public health regulations seriously. 

“Please don’t take the risk, please don’t test the hospital system,” he said. “The nurses, the doctors, what they are asking you — what they are asking Quebecers — is to please stay home.” 

On Monday, the province introduced further restrictions in red zones, including banning organized sports and leisure activities as well as making masks mandatory in the classroom for high school students.

WATCH | Quebec health minister says it’s harder to identify how virus is spreading:

Health Minister Christian Dubé says community transmission makes it difficult to identify exactly where people are catching COVID-19. 1:39

Quebec City struggles to keep up with contact tracing 

Over the past month, Quebec City went from having about 100 cases per week to having more than 1,000.

Now, health officials in the region are asking the public to help curb the spread, and not just by following hygiene guidelines such as handwashing, physical distancing and mask-wearing.

“This spread, which is largely community-based, is making each public health investigation more difficult,” said Dr. André Dontigny, public health director for the Quebec City area. 

For the second day in a row, more than 200 new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Quebec City, with more than 1,250 cases confirmed in the last seven days. (Olivia Laperrière-Roy/Radio-Canada)

He said contact tracing teams have been working at maximum capacity, conducting about 200 investigations per day.  But that’s not enough, and some people aren’t being reached in a timely manner, he said.

In a newly revamped website, health officials in the region have compiled information on contact tracing and how it works. They have also put out a call for applicants to help with contact tracing efforts and testing.

Officials are also asking those who have COVID-19 to reach out to to those with whom they came in contact themselves.

Quebec hospitals ‘bracing for impact,’ specialist says

Quebec’s hospital network has space for new patients now, but it is “bracing for impact,” said Dr. Matthew Oughton, a specialist in infectious diseases at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital.

“The more cases we have spreading in the community, the more likely it is that you’re going to see spillover into vulnerable groups,” Oughton said. 

“And then all of a sudden, in one region, you are going to have a huge surge in people who are sick and need hospitalization.”

About six per cent of the province’s daily tests are coming back positive, he said, and generally, anything above five per cent indicates the situation is getting out of control.

Pedestrians walk along Ste-Catherine Street in Montreal on Tuesday as Quebec reports a record 1,364 new COVID-19 cases. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Nine months into the pandemic, hospitals in Quebec are better equipped and staff more knowledgeable about the coronavirus, but health-care workers are still recovering from the first wave, he said.

“I think we have a lot of battle fatigue,” Oughton said. “I am pretty sure the system is increasingly fragile.”

As the number of patients increase, there may be burnouts and staff heading home to isolate, Oughton said, and that could, in turn, bring other hospital services to a standstill once again.

The best way to prevent the health network from being overwhelmed, he said, is for people to do their part by following the health restrictions and for the province to crack down even more.

“It’s very simple: The more face-to-face, close contacts you have, the more chances there are for transmission of this virus, the longer it is going to transmit and the harder it is going to be to get it under control,” Oughton said.

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