Quit socializing for next month to stop COVID spread, Quebec health minister pleads
Christian Dubé expands orange zone around Montreal to include most suburbs
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé is asking the public to avoid social gatherings for 28 days.
Dubé said the province's public health experts believe that, if transmission can be minimized for two consecutive two-week stretches, the second wave of the virus will be contained.
"I insist on this," he said Friday. "It is for a month."
He said the public should take it "one day at a time." (He later added that, if the public had already started avoiding gatherings a day earlier, when he made a similar plea, then there's only 27 days left.)
Dubé also moved the entire greater Montreal region into the heightened, orange level of alert on Friday, given what the health minister described as an increasingly worrisome situation.
The change applies to parts of the Laurentians, Lanaudière and the Montérégie. Dubé said an increase in cases, outbreaks and hospitalizations prompted the move.
No region has been driven into the red alert level, which would mean further restrictions, even though Montreal public health is preparing for the possibility.
But the designation no longer carries as much meaning given that, for the past two days, Dubé has urged Quebecers in all parts of the province to avoid getting together.
The province reported 637 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the highest daily number since May 21, while the number of hospitalizations also climbed for the sixth consecutive day.
'Please, take the call'
The province also conducted more than 36,000 tests on Friday, the most ever in a day. The increase, coupled with a higher number of positive results, has put a strain on the province's contact tracers.
Contact tracing is viewed by experts as a crucial tool in both understanding how the virus is spreading, and containing outbreaks.
In recent weeks, public health workers have complained that people weren't picking up the phone, in part because their caller ID was blocked.
Dubé has estimated that up to 30 percent of people contacted due to potential exposure don't pick up the phone.
On Friday, Dubé announced that now, when health workers call to give a test result or get in touch with someone who may have been exposed, the caller ID will show "Santé publique."
"Please, take the call," he said.
No plans to close bars, restaurants or schools
Despite the rise in cases, the province has no immediate plans to close bars, restaurants or other businesses.
Quebec's public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, said doing so wouldn't necessarily mean a decrease in outbreaks.
He said that people who would otherwise go out for dinner, where the distancing rules are in effect, could end up having a party at their home, where the potential for spread is greater.
Arruda also reiterated that the province has no plans to close schools and that they have not been a major source of transmission.
As of Thursday, there were 1,163 cases across the province's network of 3,089 public and private schools. There are more than 1 million students in the province.
Université de Montréal epidemiologist Hélène Carabin said that, for now at least, the government's decision is understandable.
"In most of those cases, the case was not acquired at school. It was acquired in the community," she said.
"The data is still very new. It's an emerging disease so it's difficuilt to know, but from what we have seen so far it doesn't look like school is a really big source."