As COVID-19 cases and 4th wave concerns in Quebec mount, so do calls for a vaccine passport
More stringent measures needed to combat the 'pandemic of the unvaccinated,' one expert says
Despite months of unabated efforts from health officials to get the unvaccinated segment of the province's population protected from COVID-19, cases are on an upswing.
The province's seven-day rolling average, which helps smooth out peaks and valleys in the data, has jumped to 143 cases, the highest it's been since mid-June.
Today, the province's public health institute recorded 175 new cases — the second-highest number of new daily cases reported in more than a month.
Amid the increasing case trend, Liberal opposition leader Dominique Anglade is calling on the Legault government to impose the vaccine passport system.
On her Facebook page today, Anglade said the province needs vaccine passports to avoid another lockdown, as people are set to return to offices, and schools are scheduled to resume in a few weeks.
The Quebec government has said that starting September, it will require people to prove they are vaccinated to access non-essential services in parts of the province where COVID-19 transmission is high.
Today, New York City announced a proof of vaccination will be required from people who want to take part in certain indoor activities, particularly restaurants and gyms.
Prativa Baral, an epidemiologist with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says the window of action to avoid a fourth wave in Quebec is quickly closing, and she supports nudging people toward immunization.
"Seeing the rise in cases, I think [a vaccination passport] makes sense for us to do this at this point," she said.
While Quebec's health minister, Christian Dubé, has said the passports wouldn't be used if enough people are vaccinated and transmission is low, he said today that the rise in cases is worrisome and he won't hesitate to impose the system.
"Remember that the vaccine is a safer choice than contracting the delta variant," he said in a tweet. "Therefore, if the situation deteriorates, we will be ready to implement the vaccine passport."
Worrisome trend in Mauricie
The situation is particularly worrisome in the Mauricie–Centre-du-Québec region, which saw an active case count of 150 Tuesday. The region is fast catching up to more populous areas like Laval and Montérégie, which recorded 163 and 159 active cases, respectively.
At least three restaurants in downtown Trois-Rivières have voluntarily and temporarily shut down as a precaution due to the spike in COVID-19 cases.
The regional health agency for the area, the CIUSSS Mauricie-Centre du Québec, says while the situation is daunting, it's under control. They are also confident vaccine passports won't be needed to curb the rise in cases, but say they will welcome it as a last resort.
Some 83 per cent of the eligible population has been vaccinated, and the health agency says it's implementing various measures — such as enforcement of sanitary measures in restaurants, bars and shops by public health and outreach workers in downtown areas to encourage vaccinations — in hopes of bringing case numbers down.
Of 96 positive cases in the region in the past four days, the majority were in people of the 18-to-39 age group, who were either not vaccinated or had only one dose.
'Situation in Quebec is pretty good'
According to Dr. Karl Weiss, head of infectious diseases at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital, a surge in cases like this was to be expected. He says it's important to take note, however, that hospitalizations and deaths have remained steady across the province.
"I think, overall, the situation in Quebec is pretty good," he said, looking at the U.S. where there's rapid spread of the delta variant
While hospitalization rates are stable for now, Quebec is further loosening restrictions, which is likely to contribute to the spread of the delta variant in the province.
But Weiss says we're now facing a "pandemic of the unvaccinated," noting that the risk of becoming hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 is 25 times higher for unvaccinated people. Still, he says, the province is likely to face multiple more waves, albeit far less detrimental on the health-care system.
"We'll probably end up with wave number 15 at one point, but wave number four will be very different than wave three because a good chunk of the population has already been immunized," he said.
Both Baral and Weiss acknowledge there could be outbreaks in the fall when unvaccinated students go back to school, and they are urging the government to impose stringent measures beyond vaccination efforts.
"Are the schools ventilated?," said Baral. "What does that look like to make sure that when 30 kids who are unvaccinated are in a classroom, we can mitigate the risk and keep that keep the risk as low as possible?"
- Back to 'normal' for Quebec elementary and high school students in fall, if vaccination goes as planned
Today, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge tweeted he is currently working with public health to update the parameters for the start of the school year.
"We will consider the evolution of the pandemic and vaccination to provide a safe environment for students and staff," he said.
With files from Lauren McCallum, the Canadian Press