Montréal-Nord responds to call for help as COVID-19 cases climb in the borough

As the number of COVID-19 cases rises in Montréal-Nord, the borough has announced a series of new measures aimed at containing the outbreak.

Borough now has most cases on the island, likely due to large number of health-care workers living there

A total of 10 per cent of Montreal's COVID-19 cases are in the borough of Montréal-Nord. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

As the number of COVID-19 cases rises in Montréal-Nord, the borough has announced a series of new measures aimed at containing the outbreak.

City officials outlined their intervention plan on Wednesday after community groups called for more resources and testing in a borough that now has 1,153 confirmed cases. 

That's more than any other borough or municipality on the island, accounting for 10 per cent of the city's infections and representing a rate of 132 cases per 10,000 residents.

Montréal-Nord is one of the poorest districts in Montreal, with more than 20 per cent of residents living on a low income. Borough Mayor Christine Black said she recognizes how poverty exacerbates the challenge people already face in a pandemic.

In a statement Wednesday, she vowed the city will "do everything to ensure the physical and psychological security of our citizens."

Her administration is setting up a working group, made up of officials from the borough, Montreal public health, the regional health agency and La Table de quartier de Montréal-Nord — a coalition of community groups.

Among the planned measures:

  • The borough will buy and distribute 2,000 disposable masks and 5,000 reusable masks.
  • Outreach workers will fan out in the community on bike and on foot, to discourage public gatherings and share information about health directives.
  • Sidewalks will be widened to create "health corridors" near elementary schools and on some commercial streets.
  • Information posters will be placed around the borough.
  • An information campaign will be launched to educate businesses and residential building owners.

Montreal public health also announced a new testing site would be set up May 1 in the community. Anyone with symptoms in the borough can call 514-644-4545 for an appointment.

More than 20 per cent of Montréal-Nord residents are considered of low income. Households have a mediam income of $42,548 according to the 2016 census data. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

'We could have acted earlier'

Concerned citizens in Montréal-Nord say the borough should have acted more quickly, instead of waiting for a call for help from community groups.

"What is frustrating and shocking is that everyone knew where we were headed," said Will Prosper, a former RCMP officer and co-founder of Monréal-Nord Républik. "We are in reaction, when we could have acted earlier."

Bochra Manaï of Paroles d'excluEs, an anti-poverty group, said Montréal-Nord should have already had measures in place similar to those in Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

That west-end borough has widened busy sidewalks by clearing a parking lane on busy streets such as Monkland Avenue, so people can keep a safe distance from each other.

These are the types of concerns raised by local community groups and concerned residents in an open letter sent to public health authorities on Monday. 

"A health crisis like the one we are experiencing throws a more striking light on the systemic inequalities experienced by the population of northern Montreal," the letter stated.

Montréal-Nord should have been a priority much sooner given the already abysmal and well-known difficulties residents face in the area, say the letter's signatories.

To successfully open the economy in the borough, the groups said, city officials must first do more testing and be more transparent about data. The letter also calls for awareness campaigns and wider pedestrian corridors.

Conditions ripe for spread of coronavirus

With tight living spaces in Montréal-Nord, people go to parks and other public spaces to spread out, said Brunilda Reyes, who runs Les Fourchettes de l'Espoir — a non-profit group that works to feed those in need.

On top of that, many women of Haitian background who live in the borough work in CHSLDs and other seniors' residences, according to Christine Guay, who heads Impulsion-Travail, an organization that helps women find work.

"Culturally, they value themselves by taking care of others," she said. "They are also very comfortable with the elderly, for whom they have sympathy and interest."

Côte-Des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-De-Grâce is among the first Montreal boroughs to extend sidewalks so people can keep a safe distance. Advocates challenge the city to the same in Montréal-Nord. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Indeed, more than 40 per cent of the infections in Montréal-Nord are associated with CHSLDs or other types of long-term residences, said the director of Montreal's public health agency, Dr. Mylène Drouin, at Tuesday's news briefing.

More than 20 per cent of those infected are health-care workers, she said.

Quebec Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda reiterated her comments during a provincial news briefing Wednesday, saying further studies will be done to better understand how the coronavirus spreads but it's clear health-care workers are transmitting it to the community.

As Montreal public health zeroes in on acute outbreaks like that in Montréal-Nord, Drouin said the larger strategy will be to give everybody in every neighbourhood more access to testing.


Isaac Olson


Isaac Olson is a journalist with CBC Montreal. He worked largely as a newspaper reporter and photographer for 15 years before joining CBC in the spring of 2018.

with files from Antoni Nerestant and Matt D'Amours

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