Coronavirus crisis improving in Montreal, but public health worried about variant cases

People make their way along St. Catherine street Wednesday, February 10, 2021 in Montreal. Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

While the health crisis has been improving in hard-hit Montreal in recent weeks, authorities say they are concerned about novel coronavirus outbreaks in schools and the arrival of different COVID-19 variants in the city.

Dr. Mylène Drouin, director of Montreal public health, said Wednesday that the city has struck a “high plateau” of about 500 new infections per day.

The positivity rate has dropped to about 6.6 per cent for Montreal, but some neighbourhoods stand at 10 per cent — including Parc-Extension and Côte-des-Neiges.

“We are still at a very red area,” Drouin said, referring to the city’s colour-code designation.

Drouin said there are nine confirmed cases and 23 presumed infections linked to variants of the virus. An additional twelve cases are considered to be epidemiologically linked, she added.

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There is also currently an investigation into a COVID-19 outbreak at Collège Stanislas, a French-language private school in the Outremont borough, that could be related to the U.K. variant, according to Drouin. The elementary school is closed as a result, she added.

“We sent professors and students for screening tests,” Drouin told reporters.

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Thomas Saène, the college’s general manager, said in a statement that high school students are also being screened and moved to online studies as a precaution.

In Montreal, there are more than 375 active coronavirus outbreaks.

There has been a decrease in outbreaks in the workplace and health-care settings, according to public health. The concern, Drouin says, lies in schools and daycares which currently have 82 and 56 active outbreaks respectively. Under Quebec’s lockdown measures, those two sectors remain open but with public health measures in place.

“We’re seeing bigger outbreaks in some schools,” she said, adding the pandemic has forced four schools to close in the past two weeks.

While the second wave of the pandemic is improving, public health is asking Montrealers to continue abiding by restrictions to stem the tide of the virus.

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Drouin also called on the public to be vigilant when it comes to screening and limiting contact with others.

“It is important if you have symptoms to get tested as soon as possible,” she said.

Hospitals still under pressure

Sonia Bélanger, head of the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, says that health-care institutions remain “very fragile.”

She explained that the situation in hospitals, which have been dealing with the progressing second wave of the crisis, is improving that the city isn’t out of the woods yet.

“Yes it’s improving but in intensive care, there’s a big pressure on teams,” she said.

There are about 500 health-care workers who are absent from work due to the pandemic because they have either tested positive for COVID-19, they are awaiting results or because a person in the same household has contracted the virus, according to Bélanger.

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Bélanger also pointed to tired workers on the front lines, saying they have been dealing with the pandemic for nearly a year.

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When it comes to the province’s inoculation campaign, about 72,000 people in Montreal have been vaccinated to date. The majority of them are residents in long-term care centres, health-care workers and the elderly in seniors’ residences.

Montreal public health is preparing to eventually be able to vaccinate the public with mass inoculation sites once the doses are widely available, according to Bélanger.

With files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian Press

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