'We have attained a plateau,' says Montreal's public health director, even as COVID-19 cases surpass 7,000

Montreal has more COVID-19 cases than any other city in Canada, but the rate of increase has levelled off, Dr. Mylène Drouin assured Montrealers.

Robocalls to seniors 'are not phishing,' says Mayor Plante about effort to check whether citizens are safe

Montreal residents 80 and up, considered a high-risk group, account for 1,302 cases of COVID-19. That is a rate of 1,288.6 per 100,000 people. (Daniel Thomas/Radio-Canada)

With 7,281 confirmed cases and 332 deaths as of Thursday, Montreal has recorded more cases of coronavirus infection than any other city in Canada.

However, Montreal's rate of increase appears to be levelling off, as public health officials predicted it would.

"We are very confident that we have reached the peak of the curve," said Dr. Mylène Drouin, Montreal's director of public health, at a briefing Thursday.

"If we look at the cases today and yesterday, we have attained a plateau." 

The first wave of COVID-19 cases may be levelling off, she said, but there will likely  be more waves, hopefully less severe.

A total of 90 new deaths were recorded in Montreal in the last 24 hours. 

That number went up dramatically, in part because Quebec is now including suspected COVID-19 deaths in people that never tested positive, and also because not all long-term homes were properly reporting deaths, said Drouin.

Some 76 new patients were admitted to hospital on Wednesday, she said, and six more are in intensive care. Drouin said Montreal has not yet seen a decrease in the number of patients in hospital.

Provincial epidemiologists are now including anyone quarantined at home with confirmed COVID-19 patients in the tally, Drouin said.

That drives the count up by at least 451 people with the disease, she said — a number may even rise to more than 600 once all people in that circumstance are included.

"Community transmissions have slowed down," she said, but the well-documented outbreaks in seniors' residences have not.

There have been substantial spikes in some sectors of the island, but that isn't necessarily because the disease is spreading between neighbours, family members and colleagues, according to the regional health director. 

"The increases that we're seeing are mostly attributed to the outbreaks that we're seeing in CHSLD and not necessarily to community transmission," Drouin said. 

No visitors allowed in 'hot zones'

The age group at highest risk, those 80 and up, has the highest number of cases, at 1,302. 

Drouin said 25 per cent of cases are now among those 70 and up.

Though the province has lifted the total ban on visitors to long-term care institutions and now allows qualified caregivers to go in some cases, Drouin said there will still be restrictions.

"The CHSLDs that are in active outbreaks, and they have hot zones, caregivers won't be allowed to go in those CHSLDs or in those zones," she said.

A parking lane on busy Mont-Royal Avenue on the Plateau Mont-Royal has been sacrifice to allow pedestrians to maintain a safe physical distance from each other. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

At seniors' residences that have no outbreaks or have uninfected patients safely cordoned off in so-called "cold zones," caregivers will be permitted to visit in the coming days. 

The priority right now is to introduce new health-care workers into the long-term care homes, as they become available, Drouin said. Every CHSLD will contact families and give recommendations according to their situation, she said.

Reopening the city must be done 'correctly'

CHSLD Les Cèdres in Montreal's borough of Saint-Laurent is among those in Montreal that have an outbreak of COVID-19. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Drouin said Montreal public health is working with borough and city officials in planning how to reopen the city safely, in keeping with the provincial plan to restart the economy gradually in the coming weeks.

She said it must be done correctly to avoid a resurgence of COVID-19.

One of the recommendations will be that people cover their face with a mask or scarf when they are out in public and unable to maintain a safe distance from others, Drouin said.

Montreal Valérie Plante said she will be relying on public health recommendations from the provincial and federal level.

In Montreal, Drouin said the situation may be different from elsewhere in the province,  as the city is more densely populated. 

Public health is looking at certain businesses and figuring out which are the most essential and which can safely open, she said.

Some businesses may open sooner than others, though Drouin said she cannot predict when that process will begin. Plante said bars and restaurants likely will not be the first on the list of businesses allowed to open.

Public health robocalls not a scam, mayor says

Plante said a pilot project was started last week to make automated calls to seniors, and that will continue in the coming weeks to see if those vulnerable residents need anything.

The goal is to cover the entire island of Montreal, and people should not hang up, she said, as it is not a scam.

"I want you to know that if you receive a call at the beginning it says that it's from the public health authorities and the city of Montreal it is safe," Plante  said. 

"It is not phishing, and it is important to listen to the entire message to find out about the various resources that are available."

Taxi drivers to get some help 

Plante said taxi drivers are doing a "great job" in making sure people are safely able to get around the city to access essential services.

Because of this, she said, the city is granting $260,000  to the Bureau du taxi de Montréal to help taxi owners install protective barriers between the driver and clients.

Côte Saint-Luc has highest rate of cases

Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, the city's most populated borough, has the highest number of cases at 717, followed by Ahuntsic-Cartierville which has 481 cases.

Côte Saint-Luc still has the highest rate of infection, as 286 of its roughly 32,450 residents have COVID-19. 

Despite the alarming situation there, the testing clinic that was established in the Cavendish Mall parking lot is set to close at the end of the day Thursday, according to an announcement on the city's Facebook page.

The local health agency for Côte Saint-Luc, CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, says the clinic was largely set up to test returning snowbirds, but very few are taking advantage of the location these days.

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