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Quebec bars will be safer than university classrooms this fall: McGill epidemiologist

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A McGill University professor who specializes in infectious disease epidemiology says she believes Quebecers will be safer in bars, restaurants and gyms this September than in university classrooms.

On Friday, the Quebec government said mask-wearing and physical distancing will not be required in classrooms when in-person learning resumes at the province’s universities and junior colleges this September. Proof of vaccination against COVID-19 will only be required to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports.

The announcement came one day after Quebec Premier François Legault told reporters the province will be introducing a vaccine passport system to access non-essential services such as bars and gyms.

“I was very surprised to see the new Quebec provincial guidelines calling for greater efforts to reduce (COVID-19) transmission risk in bars and restaurants than in institutes of higher education where young adults will be gathering in large numbers as the semester starts,” Nicole Basta, who teaches in McGill University’s department of epidemiology, biostatistics and occupational health, said in an email to The Canadian Press Monday.

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McGill has said it will require mask-wearing in classrooms where physical distancing cannot be maintained. Two other large Montreal universities, Université de Montréal and Concordia University, say they’re reviewing their mask policies and will announce this week when masks will be required on their campuses.

Basta said she’d like to see universities do more, including “thoughtful vaccination requirements” for students who want to be on campus in person.

“We are facing a number of challenges that indicate that masking alone will be insufficient to prevent outbreaks this fall,” she said. “The greater transmissibility of the Delta variant, the relatively low vaccination rate among both 18-29 year olds and 12-17 year olds and the recent uptick in cases all suggest that multiple public health measures will be needed to prevent outbreaks.”

Basta said she’d also like to see universities and colleges take a leadership role in the promotion of vaccination and take steps to address concerns from students who have not been vaccinated.

The office of Danielle McCann, Quebec’s higher education minister, did not respond to a request for comment on Monday afternoon.

Quebec reported 250 new cases of COVID-19 Monday and another 509 new cases identified on Friday and Saturday, as the upward trend in infections continued.

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Health officials in the province have reported an average of 234 news cases a day over the past seven days, up from an average of 139 the prior week. But deaths and hospitalizations linked to the novel coronavirus have remained relatively stable.

The Health Department, which no longer provides COVID-19 updates on weekends, reported one more death attributed to the virus since its last report on Friday. It says the death occurred before Aug. 2.

Officials said hospitalizations dropped by two since the last report, to 55, and 14 people were in intensive care, a drop of one.

They said 28,804 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered in the previous 24 hours, and a total of 105,597 doses were given on Friday and Saturday.

The Health Department said 14.5 per cent of cases detected the week ending July 31 have been confirmed or are presumed to involve the Delta variant, up from 7.69 per cent the week before.

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