As Montreal surpasses 5,000 COVID-19 cases, city's blue-collar workers return to the job

The threat of heavy rains brings with it a risk of clogged drains and rising water levels, prompting Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante to call for a gradual return to work for blue-collar workers.

With physical distancing still the rule, Westmount wants walkers to treat sidewalks as unidirectional

COVID-19 has killed 91 Montrealers so far, according to the island's public health authority. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

As Montreal registers 5,262 COVID-19 cases and a total of 91 deaths, the city's blue-collar workers are returning to work on a gradual basis.

The move is precipitated by the threat of heavy rains. Given the extent of flooding last year and in 2017, Mayor Valérie Plante said the city must be ready for clogged drains and rising water levels, especially in boroughs where the flood risk is highest.

"Blue-collar workers are already at work to ensure that the sumps are emptied, that we are ready in the event of runoff, especially in boroughs like Rivière-des-Prairies," Plante said on on Radio-Canada's Tout un matin Thursday.

Since Tuesday, prevention officers have been visiting and monitoring the situation in the Montreal boroughs of Pierrefonds-Roxboro, Ahuntsic-Cartierville and L'Île-Bizard-Sainte-Geneviève, as well as in the municipalities of Senneville and Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue.

Next week, workers will be focused on bike paths where water accumulation can be dangerous for cyclists. There will also be an effort to clean up sidewalks, Plante said.

She said even with the return of some workers, the city must continue to respect government physical-distancing measures during the pandemic.

She reiterated that people must stay home and only travel for essential reasons, such as shopping for food.

The city may be hitting the peak of the COVID-19 curve, but Montreal's public health authority insists it is not time to relax the physical-distancing rules.

Côte-Saint-Luc has highest infection rate

The latest numbers, released Thursday afternoon, show the island of Montreal now has nearly 500 more COVID-19 cases than it did on Wednesday.

Côte Saint-Luc, with a population of about 32,500, has the highest rate of infection on the island, with 81 positive cases per 10,000 people. With 139 cases in a population of 25,000, Outremont is second, with 58 infections per 10,000.

Côte-Des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-De-Grâce, Montreal's most populous borough, has the highest number of cases overall, with 501 confirmed infections, or 30 for every 10,000 inhabitants.

As for age groups, the 40 to 49 age bracket has the highest number of infections, at 908.

There are 551 cases in the 60 to 69 age bracket, and there are 423 cases in the 70 to 79 age group.

Those aged 80 and up account for nearly 760 cases. Many of those are residents of long-term care institutions, or CHSLDs. Forty of Montreal's 294 long-term care facilities are experiencing outbreaks of COVID-19.

Westmount promotes one-way sidewalks

Most sidewalks on the island of Montreal are not wide enough to allow people to pass each other while maintaining the recommended two-metre distance between them.

The City of Westmount is encouraging pedestrians to refrain from crossing paths and instead treat sidewalks as unidirectional.

"Let's all move in the same direction to save lives," said Westmount Mayor Christina Smith.

To make that work, she said, people are encouraged to walk in the same direction as traffic on two-way streets. On one-way streets, those walking on the west side of the sidewalk will need to head south, and those walking on the east side of the sidewalk will need to head north.

Dr. Mylène Drouin, the director of public health for Montreal, says for now, it's not necessary to make sidewalks unidirectional, although Westmount and some Montreal boroughs are encouraging that practice. (Jean-Claude Taliana/Radio-Canada)

The borough of Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie's administration is considering adopting the same practice.

"We are also looking for ideas, because we see that it is really complicated due to the 1.5-metre sidewalks," said borough Mayor François Croteau.

On Wednesday, Plante announced the city was widening pedestrian access along a 2.7-kilometre stretch of Mount-Royal Avenue in the densely populated Plateau Mont-Royal borough, by freeing up one parking lane. She said the measure is meant for residents of the area to safely access essential services like grocers and pharmacies.

The city is also blocking access to Old Montreal to keep tourists out. Only people who live in the area will be allowed in, the mayor said.

But as far as making all the sidewalks unidirectional for pedestrians, the region's public health director,  Dr. Mylène Drouin, said it's not needed for now.

"It may be necessary to look street by street where there are problems with respecting the two metres, and if it is necessary, to add specific indication," she said.

Making all sidewalks unidirectional would require pedestrians, in many cases, to make substantial detours simply to cross the street safely at an intersection, said Jeanne Robin, a spokesperson for the pedestrian advocacy group, Piétons Québec.

Such a policy could lead to people jaywalking, she said, and that is not a good idea.

With files from Radio-Canada

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