Montrealers asked to reduce contacts as Omicron infections rise
'With two doses, you can still easily catch the variant,' public health director says
Montreal's public health director is urging the public to once again reduce contacts given the spike in cases of COVID-19 and growing spread of the Omicron variant.
The city recorded 844 new COVID-19 cases today, and Dr. Mylène Drouin says she expects the daily number to increase in the coming weeks.
Currently, most cases are still of the Delta variant. But there are now 95 cases of the Omicron variant in the city, and 90 per cent of them involve people who were fully vaccinated.
"With two doses, you can still easily catch the variant," Drouin said.
The median age of people infected with Omicron is 32, and 80 per cent of them showed symptoms.
Many of the cases were imported from the U.S., she said. Five cases came from Europe and another five from Africa.
"It's still uncertain what will happen if the Omicron variant is introduced in places where we have the elderly population," she said.
Symptoms less severe
Drouin said that symptoms associated with Omicron are less severe than with Delta, which remains a concern in Montreal.
"We have a high rate of screening tests, and our positivity rates are increasing. Right now, we're around eight per cent of cases tested that are positive."
According to public health, a five per cent positivity rate is cause for concern.
"These numbers give us a feeling of déjà vu," Drouin said.
Limiting contacts for the foreseeable future and getting vaccinated remain the best way to protect vulnerable demographics, she said.
"Those are preventive measures. The sooner you put them in place, the sooner you have an effect," she said.
Measures linked to venues maximum capacity and the requirement to mask at all times in public spaces would bring down the risk of superspreader events.
About half of outbreaks are in schools
Tuesday, public health in Montreal recorded an increase of 67 outbreaks on the island — from 207 last week to 274 this week.
Most of those outbreaks are in schools (123) and workplaces (91). There are 35 outbreaks in daycare centres and eight outbreaks in health-care settings.
Outbreaks in schools have led to 574 positive COVID-19 cases, and 552 of those cases were linked to elementary schools. Coeur-Immaculé-de-Marie, an elementary school in Ville-Émard, announced it would move classes online until Dec. 17 after suspecting several cases of the Omicron variant spreading.
Workplace outbreaks are linked to 460 cases, most of them in the manufacturing sector.
Meanwhile, weeks after the start of the children's vaccination campaign, there remain disparities in vaccination and case rates between neighbourhoods on the island.
As of Dec. 14, 86.1 per cent of Montrealers of all ages have received at least one vaccine dose and 80.6 per cent are fully vaccinated.
For those age 12 and above, 94.7 per cent have had at least one dose and 91.5 per cent are adequately protected.
Sonia Bélanger of the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, 40 per cent of five- to 11-year-olds were vaccinated.
"It's not bad, but it's not optimal," she said.
Some northern and eastern parts of the city have significantly lower vaccination rates than others.
In the last couple of weeks, neighbourhoods that recorded the highest number of cases are Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (512), Rosemont–La Petite Patrie (439), Ahuntsic–Carierville (433) and Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension (409).
Health-care network cancels parties
With the deteriorating epidemiological situation, Bélanger says the health-care system will be under pressure during the holidays.
About 140 health-care workers have contracted the virus because of office parties.
In Montreal, 78 people are hospitalized and 34 are in intensive care because of a COVID-19 infection, a slight increase according to Bélanger, but she says emergency rooms are in high demand, with some operating at 127 per cent to 150 per cent capacity.
"After the minister's announcement Tuesday, we've asked our personnel to avoid gatherings, and we've decided to cancel all our activities during the holiday season in our health institutions," adding that remote work will be prioritized when possible.
Changing health measures
Earlier today, Premier François Legault said he is considering changing gathering restrictions for the holidays after the province reported 2,386 COVID-19 cases today.
"It wouldn't be responsible to not look at all the possibilities, and we have to keep measures that will have an impact on [decreasing] hospitalizations," he said.
"I'm very aware that Quebecers and, as I was telling my colleagues yesterday, Canadians are very fed up with the measures."
Yesterday, Quebec's public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, defended the government's decision to loosen gathering restrictions, a week after Legault said he hoped Quebecers would be allowed to meet with up to 20 people.
Given the looming threat of the Omicron variant and the rising number of cases and hospitalizations, Liberal House leader André Fortin said he hopes the government will base its future decisions solely on public health analyses.
"We're in a situation where the government seems to be doing exactly what they did last year, which is make a premature announcement based on political considerations and now … they may have to backtrack on this."
"A lot of Quebecers are making plans right now and they don't really know what the government wants them to do or not."
Legault says he's asked Ottawa for federal government employees to help administer vaccinations in Quebec.
"Right now, we need all our employees to vaccinate," he said. "We called them all back, but there aren't as many as we used to have for vaccinations, and that's really our priority now: the third dose and vaccinating five- to 11-year-olds."
with files from Verity Stevenson