Quebec to keep mask mandate in place until mid-May
New hospital admissions expected to decrease soon, according to latest projections
Health Minister Christian Dubé has accepted a recommendation by the interim public health director to extend the mask mandate, set to be lifted at the end of April, to mid-May — even as the sixth wave of COVID-19 infections appears to be cresting.
Dubé's office put out a news release announcing that decision while Quebec's interim public health director, Dr. Luc Boileau, held an update on the COVID-19 situation in the province Thursday. Boileau called the latest pandemic projections "relative good news."
"It's encouraging to see that the number of hospitalizations should start to stabilize, and we're anticipating a reduction in new hospital admissions," Boileau said.
However, he urged Quebecers to remain prudent because of just how contagious the variants now in circulation are.
The mandate to wear masks in public places, including on public transit and in stores, had been extended until April 30, as the sixth wave of COVID-19 infections saw the number of people admitted to hospitals in Quebec soar once again.
Boileau said keeping that mandate in place for an extra two weeks should help prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by another resurgence of infections.
The number of health workers off the job due to COVID-19 infections also appears to be trending downward, Boileau said, although influenza infections are spreading throughout the health sector and the population as a whole.
"We are seeing an upsurge in the flu situation," Boileau said, noting such a surge was rare to see at this time of year.
Quebecers with flu symptoms should take the same precautions as they would for COVID-19, including isolating for five days after the onset of symptoms, wearing a mask to minimize contaminating others, and avoiding public gatherings and people at increased risk for the following five days, Boileau said.
Hospital infections milder than previous wave
According to the latest data, there are now 2,381 people in hospital in Quebec with COVID-19. The province also recorded 26 new deaths Wednesday.
Dr. Lucie Opatrny, Quebec's associate deputy health minister responsible for hospital services, who accompanied Boileau Thursday, said although that number is close to the number hospitalized during the fifth wave in February, hospitals haven't had to postpone surgeries and other services to the same extent.
Opatrny said most of the people in hospital with a COVID-19 diagnosis were admitted for other reasons, and in general, those who have been admitted because of the virus are experiencing fewer serious complications than were patients admitted during previous waves.
"A much lower percentage of people in hospital are being admitted to intensive care — five per cent — which is a lot less than before. Vaccination, which is more widespread, has helped with that," Opatrny said.
While hospitalizations have increased by 15 per cent over the past week, that percentage increase is lower than the increase in previous weeks, according to the health-care research institute, known by its French acronym as INESSS.
INESSS noted that it is too early to measure the impact of Easter weekend gatherings.
Boileau said Quebecers can still get their third and even fourth doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. He recommended those who were infected over the winter holidays make an appointment for a third dose if they haven't yet had one, as long as it has been five months since their last COVID vaccine.