Montreal ‘still far from a comfortable situation’ even as COVID-19 cases drop, public health says

In Montreal, public health authorities credit tightened restrictions for a drop in new COVID-19 cases but they are concerned about the pressure on hospitals and a complicated outbreak among the homeless population.

Dr. Mylène Drouin, director of the city’s public health department, said Friday that efforts made by Montrealers in recent weeks to curb the spread of the virus are starting to bear fruit. There were about 622 new daily infections between Jan. 17 and Jan. 21, down from a daily average of about 765 the week prior.

“Some of the confinement measures are probably going to stay,” Drouin said. “I think what we’re going to ask ourselves is what we can reintroduce that is less at-risk and help people find a normal life.”

The region had about 46 infections per 100,000 people in December. That has dropped to 37 per 100,000 and could decline to below 30 soon, she added, but the rates remain very high.

“We are still far from a comfortable situation,” Drouin said.

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The positivity rate has dropped from 12 to 8.8 per cent in Montreal, but remains high in some neighbourhoods that are considered to be hot spots.

Public health is ramping up efforts to get the pandemic under control in those areas, including using rapid tests for residents who have symptoms of COVID-19. Other measures include using translation services to provide information about testing and restrictions, as well as offering support to people who are living alone in isolation.

There are around 400 active outbreaks but Drouin says most of them are small. There are 179 in workplaces, 148 in the health-care system and 23 outbreaks associated with the reopening of schools.

The most complicated outbreak is among Montreal’s homeless population. Since December, 274 cases have been reported in association with the outbreak.

Drouin says efforts are being ramped up to get the health crisis under control to protect those who live on the street. This includes adding additional beds, using a soccer stadium to temporarily house the homeless who have tested positive for COVID-19 and inoculating vulnerable Montrealers against the virus. Around 500 homeless people have been vaccinated so far.

The director of Montreal public health also addressed the death of Raphael André, whose body was discovered inside a portable toilet near a shelter last weekend. Drouin offered her condolences to his loved ones, saying one death is too many.

‘Hospitals are at full capacity’

While the number of cases is starting to drop, another concern is the situation in hospitals. Pressure remains on the health network as hospitalizations tied to COVID-19 remain high.

Sonia Bélanger, head of the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, says the “tension in hospitals is very present.” There has only been a slight decrease in hospitalizations in the past week.

“Hospitals are at full capacity,” she said.

As of this week, there are 696 patients being treated for COVID-19 in local hospitals. Of them, 112 are in intensive care units. Montreal accounts for nearly half of Quebec patients tied to the pandemic, which stands at 1,426 as of Friday.

“It’s not over,” Bélanger said.

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With files from The Canadian Press


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