Montreal public health says ‘less is more’ for holiday gatherings as COVID-19 crisis continues

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Montreal public health director warns the city isn’t out of the woods' Coronavirus: Montreal public health director warns the city isn’t out of the woods
WATCH: Montreal's public health director is urging Montrealers to be careful ahead of the holidays, considering COVID-19 hospitalizations are currently on the rise. Global’s Gloria Henriquez reports. – Nov 26, 2020

Montrealers are being cautioned to limit gatherings during the upcoming holiday season as hospitalizations linked to COVID-19 continue to rise in the region, where the pandemic’s grip hasn’t loosened.

“Less is more,” said Dr. Mylène Drouin, director of the city’s public health department, adding that anyone who feels unwell should stay home to avoid spreading the virus.

“If you have symptoms, if you have been in contact with a case or if public health calls you then obviously you should not participate in holiday activities.”

The Quebec government has authorized people from different households to meet up twice from Dec. 24-27 but they must quarantine before and after in order to do so — though this could change if the health crisis worsens in the next month.

The second wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic has led to more than 200 new cases in Montreal per day even with restrictions in place since October, which includes a shutdown of bars, gyms and dining rooms.

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READ MORE: Quebecers urged to only have 2 gatherings during holidays amid coronavirus crisis

Drouin said it has been hard for Montreal to break the plateau of new cases, but that the infection rate has started to decline as a direct result of people minimizing their contact with others.

There are 254 active outbreaks in the city, including 109 in workplaces, 74 in schools and 21 in daycare centres. There are 40 outbreaks in health-care centres, according to Drouin.

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“They are, for the most part, small outbreaks,” she said.

Sonia Bélanger, head of the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, said that the number of patients being treated for the virus in hospital remains on the rise. There are currently 207 hospitalizations, including 29 patients in intensive care.

“I think you could see the picture and you could observe that hospitalizations have been constantly rising since September so the situation is difficult now in a lot of hospitals in Montreal,” she said.

Click to play video 'Quebec urges residents to only have 2 gatherings over holidays' Quebec urges residents to only have 2 gatherings over holidays
Quebec urges residents to only have 2 gatherings over holidays – Nov 24, 2020

After nine months of trying to contain the virus and treat those affected, Bélanger said health-care workers are tired. There are 200 employees who are not working due to contracting the illness, she added.

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“With the holiday season and winter coming, we must be extra careful,” she said.

As the cold weather sets in, public health authorities also warned that scarves and neck warmers are not adequate substitutes for masks. In Quebec, masks are mandatory in indoor public spaces and on public transit for people over 12.

The update from health authorities comes as Montreal is close to surpassing a grim milestone of 50,000 cases since the start of the pandemic. As of Wednesday, there have been 49,248 infections in the city and the death toll stands at 3,596.

‘We have to keep hope’

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said she understands that the pandemic has been difficult on people’s mental health and that winter doesn’t help.

“We know people are tired, the darkness has set in and it’s hard on the morale,” she said. “But we have to keep hope.”

As exams loom, she also applauded the efforts of university and CEGEP students, who have been moved to remote learning options since March in order to curb the spread of the virus.

Online classes have taken a toll on some students and professors. In some cases, students have struggled meeting new people, and forging social and academic connections has proven difficult.

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Young adults have been strong and resilient in the face of challenges and she encouraged them not to give up.

“We are proud of you,” Plante said.

The city is also asking anyone who feels overwhelmed or anxious as a result of the health crisis to seek help. Plante stressed it’s important to not ignore those feelings.

“You have to take care of yourselves.”

— With files from Global News’ Amanda Jelowicki