How risky is returning to routine in Montreal right now?
After months of lockdown, venturing out again comes with some caveats
This week, Quebec's public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, announced a new chapter in our post-lock down lives. Gyms are opening, restaurants are finally setting their tables again and distances are dropping for those under 16.
But just how safe are we when we start venturing out to the theatre or the beach?
There are two major things to consider when you're assessing your risk: how likely is it that someone at the gathering will have COVID-19, and how likely are you to come in close enough contact with that person that the virus can be passed on?
"The risk is proportional to the number of people that are gathering together," said Dr. Cécile Tremblay, a microbiologist and infectious disease specialist at the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal.
A group of 10 is inherently riskier than four. Fifty is riskier than 10. You have to balance the risk against things like your mental health and economic realities.
However, there is another variable here that affects that risk: community transmission.
This week, Arruda said, for the first time in months, the level of community transmission in the Montreal area has dropped to "low."
"If you're expecting it to be zero everywhere, all the time, that's impossible," he said Wednesday.
"But we don't have what we call active community transmission."
So here's the bottom line: being in groups and being indoors are less risky behaviours now because there are just fewer infected people out in the community. Public health can now also rely on a more established contact-tracing system, so if an outbreak does occur, it is less likely to spread uncontrollably.
Because there's no way to know yet who may be infected and not showing symptoms, you have to assess that risk in each situation.
However, even with diminished overall risk, physical distancing remains important, experts say.
If one unwitting person shows up at a theatre or an outdoor gathering, there is still the potential for spread. But if everyone wore a mask and practised physical distancing, the likelihood of a mass outbreak would be significantly less.
"Of course, we cannot stay forever confined with no gatherings," said Tremblay.
"If you decrease the community spread, the likelihood that someone is going to be infected at that gathering is going to be minimal — which is the case right now because we're seeing the community transmission in Montreal going very, very low."
With files from Jay Turnbull