The situation in Quebec remains “fragile” as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise and 13,000 health-care workers are absent, but officials do not intend to bring in new restrictions ahead of the Easter long weekend, interim public health director Dr. Luc Boileau said Friday.
Still, Boileau urged “vigilance” as many Quebecers prepare to meet with family, including elderly parents and grandparents.
“If we have symptoms, we don’t go. If we had symptoms and it hasn’t been 10 days, we don’t go,” Boileau said, speaking at a virtual news conference.
He also urged people to reduce their contacts in the days before planned visits with vulnerable family members, to avoid picking up and passing on the virus.
Boileau said there are currently 1,600 people with COVID-19 in hospital, and projections suggest that number could continue to rise over the next two weeks.
However, officials do not expect the number of people in hospital with COVID to reach the peak of 3,140 reached in January.
While the sixth wave was initially driven by cases in eastern Quebec, the situation in the Gaspé, on the Magdalen Islands and on the North Shore has stabilized.
However, cases in the Lower Saint Lawrence, Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean, Chaudière- Appalaches, Quebec City and Mauricie–Centre-du-Québec regions are all rising, while Montreal, the Eastern Townships and the Outaouais region are all “more affected” than they were two weeks ago.
Despite this, Boileau said there is no intention of bringing in new measures or extending the mask mandate for public spaces beyond the end of April, at least for now.
“It’s the contagion that will decide,” he said.
New rapid test procedure recommended
Boileau said new data suggests that swabbing both cheeks and the back of the throat, before swabbing both nostrils, could yield more accurate rapid test results.
Scientific advisers in Ontario have been recommending the practice since February.
Details on the new testing procedure are available on the Quebec government’s COVID-19 website, and in an instructional video.
WATCH | New procedure for using rapid tests:
Dr. Jean Longtin, a microbiologist with the Health Ministry, urged people to stay isolated if they have symptoms, even if their first rapid test comes back negative.
“The virus attains its peak on about day three or four,” he said. “If people do only one test, too early, and don’t repeat it, it can give a false negative result.”
Health-care workers could be back at work after 6 days
With 13,000 health-care workers missing from the system, some health-care centres are exercising the option to bring sick employees back to work early, as long as they have tested negative.
“In an ideal world, people would be isolated 10 days,” said Longtin. “We are offering hospitals where services are being affected the option to test employees after six days and bring them back.”
WATCH | Health-care system facing worker absences, rising hospitalizations:
Boileau said health-care employers that bring workers back early have to do so in a way that protects patients and other workers.
“Our major concern is to be able to protect the people that are at risk but also to protect the accessibility of the health-care system,” he said.
“We know it’s a tough ride … and we expect it to be difficult for the next couple of days or the next few weeks.”
Boileau apologizes for ‘inappropriate’ Bill 28 comments
Boileau apologized Friday for comments he made this week during legislative hearings into Bill 28, the CAQ government’s bill to end the public health emergency while still maintaining certain powers to manage the pandemic.
Questioned by Claire Samson, an independent MNA associated with the Conservative Party of Quebec, on the necessity of maintaining those powers, Boileau said immediately dropping all public health measures would “kill people.”
“If we stop all this now, we’re going to head toward enormous risks, and we will kill people. We have to be realistic,” he said Wednesday.
Boileau said Friday he regretted using those words, which he called “inappropriate.”
But he said removing the special measures that allow for the operation of vaccination and testing sites would put vulnerable people at risk.
“We’re not there yet. We can’t do that. There are too many risks for the population,” he said.