Quebec is reporting 509 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and one more death linked to the virus as several restrictions are being loosened across the province.
High school students are getting a reprieve and are no longer being required to wear a mask while in the classroom. Mask wearing, however, remains mandatory in common areas.
The ban on dancing and karaoke is also being lifted on Monday.
It’s a day Danny Jobin, owner of Le Date Karaoke, has been waiting for with anticipation.
“I feel like it’s Christmas today,” he said, adding his customers are equally excited. “The place is all reserved tonight and it’s not even noon.”
Karaoke was banned in Quebec in September 2020 following a COVID-19 outbreak linked to a bar in Quebec City.
Even though bars were allowed to reopen in June, singing was off limits, making it hard for some to make ends meet.
“You know, if you don’t have karaoke, the place is dead,” Jobin said. “It’s like a Dunkin Donuts without doughnuts.”
Jobin said his venue has security on site to help ensure public health guidelines continue to be respected on the premises.
While some might be excited by a return to what feels like normal, some are expressing concern.
Dr. Don Vinh, an infectious disease specialist and medical microbiologist at the McGill University Health Centre, said that while he understands that business owners have been suffering for the last 18 months, he warned the pandemic isn’t over yet.
“In fact, if you look at the data just on the Island of Montreal, we are at a level of community transmission that is classified by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) as being substantial,” he said.
The ranking for community transmission goes from low to moderate and then substantial to high.
“If we have substantial community transmission, now is not the time to start loosening social restrictions,” Vinh said.
Vinh added he finds it “mindboggling” that mask mandates are being lifted not only in high schools but in gyms too.
“What is unambiguous here is that COVID is transmitted by aerosol secretions. That means that breathing already expels out viruses if you’re infected,” he said, adding the risk of becoming infected increases with more vocal activities such as singing or speaking loudly, even in those who are vaccinated, because more virus is being pushed out.
Matt Wilson, teachers’ union president for the Lester B. Pearson School Board, said emotions have been running high among staff.
“I’ve been hearing a lot of … uncertainty to anxiety, to fear, to anger,” he said, adding most feel it’s too soon to be removing masks in schools, where kids are often crowded together.
“You know, if it’s not broke, why fix it?” Wilson asked. “This was working. Let’s keep it in place, at least through until the winter months, just to see the impact of coming inside.”
Health Minister Christian Dubé told reporters in Rimouski, Que., he didn’t think the government was removing restrictions too quickly.
“I don’t think we’re going too fast, but we must be prudent,” Dubé said.
He acknowledged that new daily cases in the province have risen over the past two weeks, but he said the increase is attributable to the lack of vaccination among younger school-aged kids.
Health officials have said they are ready to roll out vaccination for children between the ages of five and 11 pending approval of a vaccine by Health Canada.
Last week, Health Canada said a decision was forthcoming within the next two weeks.
Because children are still unvaccinated and with the holiday season just six weeks away, Vinh believes patience would have been the wiser approach.
He fears a rise in cases and hospitalizations leading up to the holidays and a possible continuation of community transmission during family gatherings.
Wilson, for his part, added he hopes parents will encourage their teens to keep their masks on, even if they’re not mandatory.
“We all have to do our part to stop the spread and the more we can mask, the better,” he said.
Quebec epidemiological situation
To date, the province has recorded 434,849 infections and 417,519 recoveries bringing the number of active cases to 5,784.
Pandemic-related hospitalizations are on the rise compared to the previous day with 21 patients admitted and eight discharged for a total of 202. Of those, 42 are in intensive care.
The latest data shows by Quebec’s health ministry shows that the risk of infection is 4.4 greater in people who are unvaccinated, compared to those who are adequately vaccinated.
Of the new infections reported on Monday, 326 were in unvaccinated Quebecers.
Being unvaccinated also carries a greater risk of hospitalization, 15.6 times higher than someone who is fully vaccinated.
In the last 24 hours, 4,483 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered for more than 13,4 million doses given in Quebec since the immunization campaign began.
To date, 11,546 Quebecers have died of complications linked to the virus.
— With files from Global News’ Dan Spector and The Canadian Press