Quebecers should wear a mask when they leave the house to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the province’s premier said on Tuesday.
François Legault showed up to the province’s briefing donning a handmade mask that was gifted to him, saying he hopes people across Quebec will follow suit, though it’s not mandatory.
“It’s to protect others,” he said, adding that it will help in situations where people can’t stand two metres apart.
As regions begin to gradually reopen after nearly eight weeks of shutdown, Legault said the measure will help contain COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Masks, he said, should be worn in tandem with rigorous hand washing and social-distancing measures.
“The virus won’t leave Quebec for a long time,” he said. “We’ll have to learn to live with it.”
Legault said masks aren’t obligatory due to availability. Many types of medical masks have been in short supply and the province doesn’t want to discriminate against those who are unable to obtain one for themselves.
Montreal’s public transit authority has also declined to make masks mandatory on the city’s buses and metros, but it will be handing them out to commuters and staff.
Quebec saw its death toll attributable to COVID-19 increase by 118 fatalities as of Tuesday, bringing it to 3,131. Legault said 113 of the victims lived in the Greater Montreal region.
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It is also the province with the highest caseload, with hundreds of new infections reported each day. There are 39,225 cases as of Tuesday.
Legault to visit hard-hit Montreal
After admitting he was worried about the virus’s progression in Montreal, Legault said he will meet with Mayor Valérie Plante and local public health authorities on Thursday.
Legault stressed the situation remains difficult in Montreal. The respiratory illness has killed more than 2,000 people on the island, which has become the epicentre of the virus’s outbreak in Canada.
As the health crisis continues to bear down, Legault also encouraged Montreal and Laval residents to get tested as the province ramps up screening measures in hard-hit areas.
“In the coming days, we will test more and more people, even those who are not symptomatic,” he said.
Quebec has pushed back reopening Montreal-area elementary schools, daycares and businesses until May 25 — but that date could be delayed again if the right conditions aren’t met.
Testing of workers in long-term care homes
Health Minister Danielle McCann said on Tuesday that she is working on the systematic testing of all workers in long-term care homes, whether they show symptoms or not.
“We are getting there,” she said.
The pandemic has been devastating in Quebec’s long-term care homes, many of which have faced outbreaks and a lack of staffing. Many of the province’s deaths have been connected to those facilities.
After a nurse who worked at an affected home in Dorval was refused a test for the coronavirus, she claims she had to fake symptoms in order to get one. She tested positive for the virus.
McCann, for her part, said that she is working to ensure more health-care workers on the front lines get tested.
“Randomly, we’re going to test people who are asymptomatic, and people, of course, who are asymptomatic workers and residents in long-term facilities,” she said. “We’re working on the plan right now.”
— With files from Global News’ Raquel Fletcher, Olivia O’Malley and the Canadian Press