COVID-19 in Quebec: Virus creates '2 separate worlds,' says premier — long-term care homes vs. rest of society

Quebec has recorded another 97 deaths, bringing the total number of COVID-19 fatalities to 1,340. Premier François Legault said he's 'not excluding' the idea of taking over private long-term care homes, as he looks ahead to creating more spacious, better-staffed facilities.

Legault mulls taking over all private seniors' homes, creating more spacious, better-staffed facilities

The wind catches the protective gown of a first responder as she gets ready to transport a patient to the emergency department of the Verdun Hospital on Thursday. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The latest:

  • Quebec has 22,616 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 1,340 people have died — an increase of 97 deaths since Thursday.
  • There are 1,460 people in hospital, including 227 in intensive care. Here's a guide to the numbers.
  • The Red Cross is setting up beds in a LaSalle arena to treat residents of long-term care homes.
  • Quebec will release details on how it will ease restrictions next week. The process is expected to start May 4.
  • The Lower North Shore region hasn't had a new COVID-19 case in two weeks, but opening it up may mean an influx of tourists who could bring infection with them.

Quebec Premier François Legault said the outbreak of COVID-19 in the province's long-term care homes is like setting fire to hay — "everything burns rapidly."

The "big lesson" he says he's learned is at this stage of the pandemic is those homes, known as CHSLDs in Quebec, are in dire need of more staff and space, so that in an outbreak, a virus can be better contained.

Quebec has recorded another 97 COVID-19 deaths, bringing the total number of coronavirus deaths to 1,340. The vast majority — about 80 per cent —  have been residents of long-term care institutions and other kinds of seniors' homes.

The virus has created "two separate worlds," the premier said Friday — one inhabited by the residents of long-term care homes and the other by the rest of society.

The situation in some private seniors' homes — such as one in Dorval that saw at least 31 deaths in less than a month — has led him to consider making all long-term care facilities public.

"I want to make sure the quality of service is the best," Legault said. "We owe that to [the elderly]."

Quebec is currently in need of thousands of workers to fill the gaps in its health-care network. As of Thursday, nearly 10,000 absences were recorded — about half due to workers in 14-day quarantine.

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said many Canadians are probably asking themselves how the situation in the country's seniors' homes got so bad.

"We need to do better and we will be working with the provinces on ways to move forward," he said.

Quebec Premier François Legault said Friday as he looks to the future, he is 'not excluding' the possibility of taking over all private long-term care homes and creating a network of more spacious, better-staffed public homes for the aged across the province. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Legault said while he would expedite his government's plan to create more spacious, better-staffed homes, the public health emergency requires as many capable workers as possible to step up to work right now.

In addition to those with health-care experience, Legault has now asked that anyone who is available to work full-time register on Quebec's Je Contribue website. 

Those who can work full time will be paid $21.28 per hour.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in the province now stands at 22,616. There are 1,460 people in hospital including 227 in intensive care.

Legault noted that some of those still in hospital have "technically recovered," but are remaining there rather than return to overburdened CHSLDs.

"If we put aside CHSLDs, the situation is under control," Legault said. The premier continues to stress, however, that any return to normalcy in society at large would be "gradual." He said details would be coming next week.

Red Cross sets up in LaSalle arena

Meanwhile, in Montreal's LaSalle borough, the Red Cross is installing a makeshift 40-bed hospital to treat the residents of overwhelmed long-term care homes.

The CIUSSS de de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, the health agency for that sector, asked the Red Cross for help more than a week ago, when the crisis at the private CHSLD Résidence Herron in Dorval escalated to the point where residents were left untended to for hours, and the death toll had risen to 31. 

About 40 beds are being set up at the Jacques-Lemaire arena near LaSalle Hospital. 

As dozens of long-term care homes and other kinds of seniors' residences have struggled to contain the virus, the most basic care has suffered. On Thursday, Dr. Vinh-Kim Nguyen, a global health expert and emergency room physician at the Jewish General Hospital, called the situation in the homes a "humanitarian crisis."

Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann has insisted there is enough protective equipment to go around in all health-care facilities, but workers in many long-term care homes say they still aren't being given enough masks, gowns and other equipment to protect themselves and help prevent the spread of infection. 

The Red Cross is setting up about 40 beds at the Jacques Lemaire arena near LaSalle Hospital to treat residents of long-term care facilities who have COVID-19. (Radio-Canada)

Earlier this week, one replacement nurse at a private residence in west-end Montreal described seeing some of the facility's regular personnel working in jeans and T-shirts or simple scrubs. In one case, she said, she saw a worker with a blanket wrapped around them as a makeshift gown.

With files from Ainslie MacLellan and Radio-Canada's Daniel Boily and Davide Gentile

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