Western Quebec looks to clamp down on outbreaks in retirement homes as cases surge

As western Quebec experiences its deadliest month so far during the COVID-19 pandemic, the region's top health official says it's imperative to limit outbreaks at retirement homes.

Outaouais reported about the same number of cases in November as more populous Ottawa

Health officials in western Quebec say a combination of pandemic fatigue and community spread of COVID-19 has led to a surge of new cases in retirement homes. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

As western Quebec experiences its deadliest month so far during the COVID-19 pandemic, the region's top health official says it's imperative to limit outbreaks at retirement homes.

In November alone, 33 people in Outaouais have died from COVID-19 — 43 died from the start of the pandemic until Oct. 31.

As of Wednesday, Outaouais reported 947 new cases of COVID-19 in November, compared to 946 confirmed cases for the same period in Ottawa, a jurisdiction with more than double the population.

The Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l'Outaouais, said seven retirement homes are currently experiencing outbreaks.

"We know a part of the increase [in cases and deaths] is associated with those outbreaks, yet those outbreaks don't explain the entire situation," said its director, Dr. Brigitte Pinard, in an interview Wednesday.

Red zone designation until at least Jan. 11

Of the total 76 deaths since the start of the pandemic, 29 have been of residents in retirement homes.

Dr. Brigitte Pinard is the the director of public health for the Outaouais. (Radio-Canada)

Pinard said retirement homes in Outaouais managed, for the most part, to avoid outbreaks during the first wave of the pandemic, but a combination of community transmission and possible fatigue with COVID-19 prevention measures explain the outbreaks during this second wave.

"It's possible that as the retirement homes were less affected during the first wave, that there was still some need to increase vigilance," she said.

Outaouais was upgraded to red status, the maximum level on Quebec's COVID-19 alert scale, in October. The earliest the provincial government said it might lower the threat level is Jan. 11, 2021.

Pinard said it's imperative to stabilize the rate of infection before the holidays to keep numbers from getting out of control. 

"It's a situation we consider to be quite fragile," she said. "People everywhere need to apply measures so we decrease the transmission and we also decrease the risk of having our most vulnerable population contract the disease."

Protecting hospitals is key

Meanwhile, hospitals in western Quebec are currently caring for 40 patients with COVID-19, including one in intensive care. Sixty-six hospital staff are infected with the virus, something that is especially concerning to Dr. Denis Marcheterre, president of the health care advocacy group Action Santé Outaouais.

Denis Marcheterre, president of Action Santé Outaouais, says hospitals in western Quebec were already struggling to meet basic demands before the arrival of COVID-19. (Yasmine Mehdi/Radio-Canada)

"If we have more outbreaks it won't look pretty in the hospitals," he said. "We have a pretty fragile health-care system and we've got to protect it."

Marcheterre said he supports the red zone designation for Outaouais through the holidays.

"There is a significant lack of nurses and support staff in hospitals and elderly care homes," he said. "We have to stay in the red zone to protect our hospitals."

About the Author

Giacomo Panico

CBC Reporter and Host

You can reach Giacomo by email

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