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Parc-Extension community trying to contain the spread of COVID-19

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WATCH: Park Extension community trying to contain the spread of COVID-19 – May 11, 2020

Parc-Extension residents worry that unless urgent steps are taken, their neighbourhood could become the next victim of COVID-19.

Community workers point to a number of problems they say make the area a target for a surge of the novel coronavirus.  One challenge, they say, is the density of the population.

“It’s often families crammed into very, very small apartments,” said Jo-an Audrey Jetté, executive director for the Parc-Extension Youth Organization.

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She said about 28,000 residents live in a one and a half square kilometre area, which means even streets and sidewalks are crowded.

“We don’t have that many big parks or things like that so even going for a walk is difficult,” Jetté explained.

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Another challenge Jetté pointed to is language, which she says makes it hard to give residents information about the virus and where people can get resources.

“There’s about 106 languages and dialects that are spoken in Parc-Ex, so communication is a huge hurdle here,” she noted.

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Other community workers indicate poverty, the number of asylum seekers in the neighbourhood and the types of jobs people do as other causes for concern.

“There’s a large number of immigrant workers who do a lot of essential work in warehouses, food production plants,” said Amy Darwish of the Parc-Extension Action Committee.

Mary Deros, Opposition city councillor for Parc-Extension, agrees.

“That scares me because these people get on the (work) buses and they’re packed,” she told Global News.  “They’re three people to a bench and they’re not wearing masks, they’re not wearing gloves.”

Community workers are demanding something be done.  The Parc-Ex neighborhood is part of the borough of Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc Extension, which has over 1,300 confirmed cases.

The workers fear that the infection rate in the borough could climb as high as neighbouring Montreal North, where there are more than 1,700 confirmed cases.

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But Jetté believes the number of cases in Parc-Ex is already higher.

“I’m not sure everybody who is sick is getting tested,” she said, “for the simple reason of not knowing where to go, where to turn.  Just because of the fear of certain institutions.

“I’ve had parents call me and ask me, ‘if I test positive, will the government take my children away?’ A lot of them are afraid to go to the hospital because they might not be here on a legal status.”

Jetté wants more testing done.

She also wants better protection for workers, including those who work in her organization.

“Masks are extremely hard to come by,” she said, shaking her head. “Even making your own, it’s very hard to find your elastics. I know because I wanted to protect my staff that way.”

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Deros also wants to see more masks distributed. She also said the borough is exploring plans to reduce parking on Saint Roch, de Liège and Durocher streets to allow more space for pedestrians.

Community groups hope measure will be in place before long.