Montreal 'on the downward slope' of Omicron wave, public health says
45,000 Montrealers await surgery, as health system climbs out from under 5th wave
As Montreal approaches the second anniversary of its first confirmed COVID-19 case, public health officials say the city is finally past the worst of the fifth wave of the pandemic.
"The peak of the Omicron wave is behind us," said Dr. Mylène Drouin, director of Montreal Public Health, who added that she hoped this would be her last news conference on COVID-19.
Drouin said officials estimate that about one million Montrealers got COVID-19 during the Omicron wave.
But as the number of outbreaks, hospitalizations and deaths continues to drop, Drouin says the city now finds itself in a transition phase.
Because of this, officials are closing the vaccination centre at the convention centre downtown, the Palais des Congrès, as of Thursday, and winding down the city's COVID-19 command centre.
Vaccinations will continue at smaller sites, as officials focus on reaching those who have not yet received a dose, and on seniors or people with chronic illnesses who have not yet received a second dose or a booster shot.
WATCH | Montreal in a transition phase, as Omicron wave subsides:
Drouin thanked Montrealers for being "adaptable" and acknowledged the "pandemic fatigue" that many are feeling after the past two years.
Still, she urged people to continue to be vigilant.
"It doesn't mean that we're in an endemic phase.… We still have the possibilities of seeing other variants," she said.
Drouin said people should continue to take a rapid test when they have symptoms, isolate for five days if they test positive, and wear a mask and avoid contacts with vulnerable people for another five days after that.
She also reminded those who are over 70 or immunocompromised that they are eligible for a PCR test and, if they are positive, for anti-viral medication.
Massive surgery backlog
As the city emerges from the fifth wave, it may take more than a year for Montreal's hospital system to reduce the backlog in surgeries, caused by the strain of COVID-19.
Sonia Bélanger, president and executive director of the regional health board for Centre-Sud-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, said hospital operating rooms are back to functioning at 86 per cent capacity.
However, she said there are still 45,000 people awaiting surgery, including 15,000 who have been waiting for more than a year.
"Our goal is to reduce that by half, by April 1, 2023," said Bélanger.
Bélanger said patients in orthopedics, ophthalmology and urology are among those facing the longest wait times. She said committees at each health institution will be combing through the lists of patients who have faced abnormal delays, to determine which surgeries should be prioritized.
As well, she said each CIUSSS will soon be launching a new one-stop service to allow people without a family doctor to access consultations with other health-care professionals, such as nurses, within 48 hours.
Removing masks in class safe, Drouin says
Drouin supported the province's plan, announced in a news release Tuesday, to allow elementary and high school students to remove their masks in the classroom, once they return from March break.
She said while students would likely be interacting with friends and family over the break, it did not necessarily mean this would lead to more transmission. She said while the 2020 March break helped set off the first wave of cases, the 2021 break actually slowed transmission in classes.
"It's not an automatic link," she said.
While some experts have expressed concern that removing masks without widespread access to PCR tests for children and youth could lead to a lag in identifying potential outbreaks, Drouin said officials would be monitoring absences among students and staff to try identify spikes in cases.
But she acknowledged that navigating the next few months will be difficult for some.
"Not everyone is comfortable at the same pace in the face of this reduction in measures," said Drouin. "So we have to be very understanding of those around us."
With files from Matt D'Amours