Montreal public health targets Parc-Extension as neighbourhood sees spike in COVID-19 cases

Between Oct. 13 and 19, there were 74 new cases reported there, bringing the rate up to 261 infections per 100,000 residents — making it the highest rate in the city.

Park Ex is known for having cramped living quarters, lack of greenspace and a lot of different languages

Public health will be increasing testing in Park Ex, opening a temporary testing clinic in Howard Park next Wednesday to add to the permanent testing facility at the local CSLC. (CBC)

While Montreal continues to battle COVID-19 outbreaks, public health officials are zeroing in on the neighbourhood of Parc-Extension where 15 per cent of tests are coming back positive.

Between Oct. 13 and 19, there were 74 new cases reported there, bringing the rate up to 261 infections per 100,000 residents — the highest rate in the city.

Parc-Extension — also known as Park Ex — has a large immigrant population with big families crowded into small living spaces and, despite its name, few parks or green spaces.

"That's creating a situation where, you know, if there's a virus, it can spread more easily than in an area where people have more space in between each other," said Christine Touchette, a service director with the CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal.

Touchette says the neighbourhood has been on public health's radar since the first wave of the pandemic.

And so the health agency is working with different community groups and places of worship to educate people about the virus.

Officials will also be increasing testing, opening a temporary testing clinic in Howard Park next Wednesday to add to the testing facility at the local CSLC. The Howard Park site will be open from Oct. 28 to Nov. 7.

One of the challenges has been to reach out to a community where about 80 different languages and dialects are spoken.

Overcoming linguistic barriers

With so many languages, encouraging the community to follow public health guidelines is more difficult, according to Jo-An Audrey Jette, executive director of Organisation des jeunes de Parc-Extension (PEYO), a non-profit group that focuses on young people and their families.

She said the only real way to reach people is to go door to door, rather than relying on posters or commercials.

"You really have to interact with them one on one to be able to answer their questions," she said.

Jo-An Audrey Jette says it is challenging to reach a large number of people at one time in the Parc-Extension because of the wide language diversity. (Charles Contant/CBC)

This is not the first time Montreal public health officials have seen a particularly sharp uptick in cases in culturally diverse neighbourhoods.

Montréal-Nord, one of the poorest districts in Montreal, was hit hard this spring and continues to have a high rate of new infections.

Information campaigns were launched there that went beyond posters and radio ads. There were people on the ground educating citizens about public health guidelines.

There was a similar spike in Outremont last month when the rate jumped to 183 infections per 100,000 residents between Sept. 15 and 21.

That was considerably higher than any other borough at the time.

Cases on the rise

As it stands, a total of 3,707 new cases were reported in Montreal between Oct. 6 and 19. 

During that time period, Park Ex was the most affected with 125 new cases, according to Montreal public health data.

That's 70 more than were seen between Sept. 22 and Oct. 5.

As for entire boroughs, Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce has the most new cases at 426, while Villeray—St-Michel—Parc-Extension has the second most new cases at 350.

Quebec reported 905 new cases of COVID-19 and 12 more deaths on Friday, four of which were in the last 24 hours.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 98,226 confirmed cases in the province and 6,106 people have died. 

Based on a report by CBC's Elias Abboud

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