COVID-19 in Quebec: Healthy seniors living in CHSLDs can go home to families

Quebec has now recorded 6,101 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 61 people have died. Premier François Legault stressed the new death toll includes several people who died earlier and have only now been confirmed to have died from COVID-19.

If elderly residents in COVID-infected institutions are well enough to leave, they can, says health minister

Health Minister Danielle McCann acknowledged that for some seniors, the best place for them to be during the pandemic is at home with family. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Quebec's health minister says families will be allowed to pick up their healthy, elderly relatives living in long-term care institutions, which have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Danielle McCann said the government moved quickly to come up with the new directive, acknowledging that allowing seniors to leave may be the best way to keep them safe. 

"If the family member wants to ...  take care of their own family member, they'll be able to do it with the proper protection," she said.

However, seniors will only be allowed to leave residences that have had no recorded case of COVID-19 infection.

Hundreds of care homes in the province have confirmed COVID-19 cases. On Wednesday, Premier François Legault called on Quebecers to stay away from seniors' homes and all long-term care institutions.

Under the new directive, elderly residents whose families are able and ready to take them home will be assisted with their belongings and brought to the front door, where they will be reunited with their family members.

People who must drive to closed regions of Quebec to reach their loved one's residence must present a letter from the seniors' residence to police stationed at roadblocks. That letter should explain their reason for travelling, and even then, whether that motorist will be allowed to travel will be up to the officers on duty.

As of Friday, Quebec has 6,101 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 61 people have died. That is 25 deaths more deaths than the province reported on Thursday.

The new death toll, Legault said, includes several people who died earlier and have only now been confirmed to have died from COVID-19.

The majority of those newly recorded deaths were people who were over 70, except one — a person in their 30s from the Montreal region who had a co-morbidity, said Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province's public health director. 

Montreal, the epicentre of the outbreak in Quebec, now has 2,837 cases.

In the Verdun borough, there are more than 30 cases of COVID-19 among staff and patients at Verdun Hospital.

The region's health board opened a testing clinic Friday in neighbouring Lachine. To be tested there, those who suspect they are infected must make an appointment by calling 1-877-644-4545.

Later Friday, Finance Minister Eric Girard announced cashiers, grocery stockers, delivery people and everyone else who keeps the province running will be entitled to up to $100 extra a week.

The new program will be retroactive to March 15, for a maximum of 16 weeks. Roughly 600,000 workers will be eligible.

Projections to come next week

In Ontario, health experts revealed Friday they expect COVID-19 could kill 3,000 to 15,000 people in the province over the course of the pandemic, the ramifications of which could last up to two years.

Legault said Quebec will release its own projections, prepared by Arruda and other public health experts, on Tuesday.

When asked whether they would be similar to Ontario's, Legault didn't answer. He did, however, point out that Quebec's measures are stricter than Ontario's.

"That's a decision that hurts the economy, but it's a decision that will save lives," he said.

Legault stressed that modelling is not an exact science, and projections aren't set in stone — adhering to physical-distancing guidelines will have an impact on how many people ultimately die from COVID-19.

The premier said he knows people are seeing the number of cases go up and may be wondering whether all the measures that have been taken so far have been in vain.

He said in comparison with the U.S., the number of deaths per million people is far lower in Quebec.

"All the efforts we're doing in our fight against the virus are working," said Legault. "We're expecting to see an increase in the number of cases, but we are saving lives right now."

SQ exploring possibility of geolocation

Legault said while the Sûreté du Québec is studying whether geolocation can be used to forcibly quarantine people who are supposed to self-isolating, there are no plans to put that into practice — in the short term.

"If we decide, eventually, to use GPS, I want to make sure we have answers about the protection of personal data," he said.

SQ officers have already been called upon to enforce travel restrictions. The provincial police service is also studying the possibility of tracking people using GPS. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

The premier has already called on police forces across the province to be "less tolerant" of people who disobey public health directives. 

Police can hand out fines of $1,000 to $6,000 to people and businesses who aren't respecting physical-distancing measures and other restrictions.

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