Montreal officials say masks 'must become a social norm' as the city looks to a summer unlike any other

While Montreal braces for the reopening of some schools and businesses in the next few weeks, Mayor Valérie Plante said everybody else will have to get used to a world without close social interaction.

Mayor still unable to say when and if libraries, pools, water games, playgrounds will reopen

Montrealers must commit to respecting this new way of life, said Montreal's public health director in Tuesday's briefing. (Charles Contant/Radio-Canada)

While Montreal braces for the reopening of some schools and businesses in the next few weeks, Mayor Valérie Plante warned everyone to get used to a world without close social interaction — no gathering in parks, no parties, no concerts and no festivals.

"We are talking about deconfinement of certain sectors, not of the population at large," she said at a briefing Tuesday.

Residents must continue to stay in their own neighbourhoods and only make essential trips when necessary, she said, and she "strongly invites" everybody to cover their faces when they go to stores, ride public transit or navigate a busy sidewalk.

Physical distancing and regular hand-washing are still the main measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, she said, and those public-health recommendations are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

It will be a summer far different than Montrealers are used to, Plante said. There are still no concrete plans to open water games, pools, libraries, sports facilities or even playgrounds, she said.

However, her administration is working hand in hand with public health authorities to look at how to move forward with recreational services and working on ways to make the warmer months as enjoyable as possible, she said.

Plante said she is pleased overall with Quebec's effort to gradually open schools and the economy.

But if Montreal sees outbreaks cropping up across the city as the economy and schools open, authorities will have to adjust accordingly, said Plante.

City buys 50,000 face coverings for vulnerable population

Quebec and Montreal public health authorities now understand that many people carry the virus but are asymptomatic, said the director of Montreal's public health agency, Dr. Mylène Drouin — and that's why they are now stressing the importance of face-coverings.

"Face-coverings must become a social norm," said Drouin.

The aim is to allow people to return to "a more or less normal life" while preventing a second wave of COVID-19, she said.

A big challenge for her agency is to figure out how to keep dense work environments, public transit and other normally crowded places safe, she said.

"The public must also do its share and respect the guidelines," she said. "Clearly we have to maintain vigilance."

Health-care workers in Montréal-Nord have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus, according to Montreal Public Health Director Mylène Drouin. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Masks and face-coverings will not be mandatory, as not everybody in the community has the resources to make or buy a mask, Drouin said, and the city doesn't want to take on the role of enforcing such a requirement.

Plante said the city will do its best to make sure people without the means to buy or make a mask get one.

Her administration has ordered 50,000 reusable face-coverings that will be distributed to community groups throughout the city, with the aim of outfitting the island's most vulnerable residents, to protect them as well as others from contagion.

More than 1,000 Montrealers have died

Twelve days after announcing that the island of Montreal had "attained the peak of the curve," Drouin said that plateau is holding, despite the fact that there are 450 confirmed new cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the total of COVID-19 cases on the island to more than 12,000.

Drouin said 1,039 Montreal residents have died due to complications caused by COVID-19. Most of those deaths have been to residents of long-term care homes.

The Quebec government announced that retail stores can reopen starting May 11 in the greater Montreal region, but public health measures will remain in place. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Health officials are still trying to figure out why Montreal has such a high death rate compared to cities like Toronto, but Drouin said it may be that Montreal's testing rate is so much higher. (Earlier this month, public health authorities began including more deaths as COVID-19 deaths, even in some people who had not been tested.)

Drouin said it is also important to note that Ontario's lockdown began before its spring break, whereas Quebec saw a surge in cases when people returned from travelling to hot zones like the United States and Europe in early March.

Cases on the rise in Montréal-Nord

Drouin said public health needs to examine available capacity in the health-care network — to see if it can handle an influx of new patients if there is a bump-up in infections once certain sectors of the economy and public life restart.

Certain neighbourhoods clearly have an epidemic curve higher than the others, and "we are very sensitive to this," Drouin said.

Montréal-Nord is one borough that has seen a significant increase in cases over the past three weeks. Public health data shows the borough has more than 1,150 infections.

A man in Montréal-Nord, one of the boroughs with a high infection rate, cleans his hands before entering a grocery store Tuesday. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

More than 40 per cent of those infections are associated with CHSLDs or other types of long-term homes, Drouin said, and more than 20 per cent of those infected are health-care workers.

"We're looking to have a specific screening strategy in this neighbourhood in the coming days," she said.

Saint-Michel and Riviere-des-Prairies are also seeing an increase in cases, Drouin said.

Her team will be looking at these areas to see what can be done to reduce transmission — be it widening sidewalks in busy sectors, disseminating public-health directives in multiple languages or working closely with community groups to ensure crucial information is spreading faster than the virus.

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

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now