Quebec will prolong its mask requirement in public places through the month of April as the sixth wave of the pandemic brings a rise in hospitalizations and cases related to COVID-19.
The province’s interim health director made the announcement Tuesday, following a meeting between government and health officials the previous evening.
The government has largely lifted most health measures in recent months, with officials touting it was time to find a way to live with the novel coronavirus. In March, it nixed its vaccine passport system and eased capacity restrictions for businesses.
The mask mandate, however, was supposed to be in place until mid-April. The government had previously announced that face coverings would no longer be required in the majority of public places by that time.
“As the majority of measures were lifted, we wanted to have an approach that’s more cautious,” Boileau said Tuesday.
He also urged Quebecers to be cautious during the latest surge of pandemic indicators, but said he has “no intention” to add more restrictions, like closing businesses.
“We’re not there,” Boileau said. “It’s a wave that was expected.”
Quebec is one of the few provinces maintaining the requirement. It has bucked the trend alongside Prince Edward Island, which also decided to keep its mask mandate in effect in hopes of limiting the spread of COVID-19.
Boileau said masking is an effective way to reduce the transmission, adding that while not everyone likes having to wear a mask, the health order is an “acceptable restriction in the current situation.”
“For us, it’s important to reduce the number of risky contacts, and this is one way to do that,” Boileau said.
The decision comes as Quebec reported 31 new deaths and a 72-patient increase Tuesday.
Hospitalizations related to the pandemic — which dipped below 1,000 in mid-March — reached 1,479 in the latest update. This comes after 219 people were admitted in the last day, while 147 left.
The number of patients in intensive care units being treated for the disease remained unchanged at 69.
“Despite everything, the situation is under control for hospitals,” Boileau said, before adding that thousands of health-care workers are absent because they contracted COVID-19.
The province also reported 2,615 new cases Tuesday, though the daily tally isn’t representative of the situation since only certain groups can access PCR screening. On that note, 15,540 tests were administered at government-run sites.
Quebecers also continued to declare the results of their rapid tests. A total of 1,586 results were registered online in the last day, including 1,346 positive results.
The vaccination campaign doled out another 13,012 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in a 24-hour period, for more than 18.6 million to date.
The province’s official caseload stood at 981,539 in the latest update, while the death toll reached 14,442. Recoveries from the virus topped 940,000.
Quebec to offer 4th dose to more age groups
The province is also expanding access to its COVID-19 vaccination campaign in the coming weeks.
Anyone aged 70 and older will be able to sign up on Clic Santé for a fourth dose of the vaccine starting Wednesday, Boileau said.
It will also be offered to Quebecers who are 60 and older as of April 11.
In March, public health authorities approved a fourth dose for certain at-risk groups, including those who are immunocompromised.
Boileau also urged those who haven’t received a third dose to do so, saying it is effective in preventing serious forms of the disease.
— with files from The Canadian Press