How a school outbreak in a small Gaspé town has almost a fifth of residents isolating

Gaspé public health says the outbreak is being kept under control but the authority is asking residents to get tested and isolate if they have symptoms.

Gaspé public health says outbreak is under control, asking residents to get tested

Public health authorities say the outbreak began with a case at Notre-Dame-des-Neiges elementary school. (Radio-Canada)

More than 50 people in the village of Marsoui, Que., are in preventive isolation after an elementary school was hit by an outbreak of COVID-19.

Public health authorities say the outbreak is well-contained so far but with the village home to a total of 275 people, this outbreak means nearly a fifth of residents need to stay home.

"This shows us how just one case can have a lot of impact on a population," Dr. Yv Bonnier-Viger, the region's chief public health officer, said at a news conference Thursday.

According to the local health authority — CISSS de la Gaspésie — the outbreak started when one student tested positive for COVID-19 at Notre-Dame-des-Neiges elementary school Monday.

There are only about 30 children at the school, so Bonnier-Viger says it was necessary to shut it down and have all students and their families self-isolate as a precaution.

"In the context of the variants now, we have to test everyone who may have been in contact with the virus," Bonnier-Viger said.

By Wednesday, at least three students and one staff member at the school had tested positive.

The town's recreational centre and municipal library have also been temporarily shut down as a result.

Marsoui Mayor Ghislain Deschênes is warning residents to be extra cautious. (Jean-François Deschênes/Radio-Canada)

"We learned that the damn virus is circulating, alive and well everywhere," Marsoui Mayor Ghislain Deschênes wrote on Facebook Wednesday.

"From now on, we all need to follow the recommendations to the letter to protect each other, and especially ourselves."

The regional health authority set up a mobile testing site in the village this week, and Bonnier-Viger says some 140 people have used it so far.

"We can expect other cases to come out in the data that will appear today or tomorrow, but not to a point where we need to worry too much," said Bonnier-Viger.

Bonnier-Viger says all active cases in the region are currently cases of the variants, which he says means they originated from outside the region.

But he said much of the community spread is coming from residents who are failing to follow basic public health protocols such as hand-washing or limiting their number of close contacts.

"Even if we think there isn't a lot of the virus, once it's there, once it's present, it is very very contagious," he cautioned.

Still, Bonnier-Viger believes that if residents remain cautious over the coming weeks, further spread will be limited and the Gaspé region can remain a yellow zone.

Vaccine campaign successful so far, public health says

About half of the Gaspésie and Îles-de-la-Madeleine population has received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and about five per cent have already been inoculated with a second dose.

Johanne Méthot, head of the vaccination campaign in the region, said she is satisfied with the number of people showing up so far and has high hopes for the coming weeks.

Smaller vaccination sites have been added to several communities in the region, including Grande-Vallée and Rocher Percé, which she says has helped to reach more members of the public.

The CISSS has also been calling up residents over the age of 60 individually to ensure they can get help if they're having issues booking an appointment.

A total of 52,410 vaccine doses have been administered in the region.