Montreal public health reports 44 confirmed or likely cases of highly contagious COVID variants

Montreal could have more than six times as many cases of the more infectious COVID-19 strains than currently reported by Quebec’s public health research institute.

One presumptive case found in an outbreak at Collège Stanislas

In-person primary school classes were shut down at Collège Stanislas after an outbreak infected more than 40 people. Among those is a presumptive case of the contagious B117 variant discovered in the U.K. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Montreal may have more than six times as many cases of the more contagious COVID-19 variants than currently estimated by Quebec's public health research institute, local health officials say.

At a news conference Wednesday the city's director of public health, Dr. Mylène Drouin, said there are currently 44 confirmed or suspected variant cases in the city. The vast majority of them involve the variant known as B117, first detected in the United Kingdom, and many are connected to travel outside the province, she said.

The Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ), reports only confirmed instances of variant strains, and currently lists seven cases of B117 for the Montreal area. 

Drouin said Montreal public health's concern about the new strains means presumptive cases are essentially treated as though they were confirmed. 

"We can't wait for sequencing results, which might come a week or a week and a half later," she said. "The window of opportunity to intervene will have passed."

Montreal's director of public health, Dr. Mylène Drouin, says Montreal public health's concern about the new strains means presumptive cases are treated as though they are confirmed.  (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

That approach is part and parcel of a more aggressive protocol designed to keep the variants in check because of the threat they could pose to an already fragile health-care system.

"The challenge with the variants is much more pronounced transmission and outbreaks," Drouin said. "Which could lead us, if we don't protect the most vulnerable people, to more severe cases and more hospitalizations."

Drouin conceded there could already be cases in the community authorities don't know about.

"I think we may be missing some at the time we're speaking," she said.

Most of the variants have been limited to family clusters, but Drouin said the presence of a presumptive case of the B117 variant at Collège Stanislas, a private school in the Outremont borough, indicated that community spread could be happening already. 

The Stanislas infection is part of an outbreak of more than 40 cases that prompted authorities to shut down in-school classes at the primary level. On Wednesday evening, the school announced in a statement it is also temporarily moving secondary and CEGEP-level classes online.

The variant wasn't the only reason behind the closure, Drouin said, but being able to shut down classes or schools is one part of the more intensive plan.

"Our strategy is really to do everything we can in [the] way of tracing to ensure these strains do not become the predominant strains within the community," she said.

Of the 44 confirmed or presumptive Montreal variant cases, nine have been confirmed through laboratory sequencing, 23 have not yet been formally confirmed and 12 are epidemiologically linked, meaning those infections are thought to have been acquired from someone with a confirmed variant case.


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