Montrealers are being asked to be tested as soon as they have symptoms of COVID-19 as the growing number of hospitalizations and cases put pressure on the city’s health network.
Hospitalizations linked to the health crisis have nearly doubled in the span of a month. The number of patients in local hospitals was 366 in mid December — but now it has topped 700.
“Montreal is once again the epicentre of the pandemic and the situation remains very, very difficult in hospitals,” said Mayor Valérie Plante told reporters during a news conference Wednesday.
Quebec topped 1,500 hospitalizations Wednesday, a number not seen since the spring when the pandemic first bore down. Montreal accounts for more than half of COVID-19 patients, with 744 people in hospital — there are 1,000 beds set aside for people with the novel coronavirus.
Sonia Bélanger, head of the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, says four hospitals plan to add up to 310 regular hospital beds for COVID-19 patients and another 43 intensive care beds. This includes the McGill University Health Centre and the Jewish General Hospital.
Hospitals haven’t yet exceeded capacity, according to Bélanger, but the current direction is “worrisome.” The evolving second wave has also put non-urgent medical care on the backburner, with more than 48,000 people awaiting surgery in Montreal.
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“The situation in our hospitals is alarming,” she said.
In recent weeks, health officials have been warning that Quebec’s hospitals could soon be overwhelmed and have raised the prospect that hospitals might need to invoke a protocol that determines which patients are admitted to intensive care units.
Bélanger says doctors in the Montreal network have begun training for what she described as the “catastrophic scenario” of having to implement the protocol.
“We are preparing, but we will do everything in our power to keep providing care to the Montreal population,” she said.
When it comes to vaccination, Bélanger said the city was preparing to cross an important milestone in the campaign: all of the residents, staff and care personnel in Montreal’s long-term care homes should receive a first dose of the vaccine by next week.
Get screened, stay home if you have symptoms
Dr. Mylène Drouin, the director of the city’s public health department, says the positivity rate is at 12 per cent in Montreal. Some areas are harder hit than others, including the Parc-Extension, Saint-Leonard and Saint-Michel neighbourhoods.
While the daily tally of new cases was down earlier this week, she said it was too early to say the province has hit a “plateau.”
There are more than 300 active outbreaks in the city, with a concerning growth in health-care institutions and long-term care residences, according to Drouin. She also warned against private gatherings — which are mostly banned under Quebec’s restrictions — to stem community transmission of the virus.
With elementary students back in class and high schools set to physically reopen next week, Drouin is urging anyone who may have symptoms of the virus to be tested and to stay home.
“Of course there will be cases in schools because we know what’s happening in schools is a reflection of what’s happening in the community,” she said.
Montreal’s top health official also said she supports students heading back to class, which Quebec Premier François Legault has described as a “calculated risk.”
— With files from The Canadian Press