QUEBEC — The number of COVID-19 cases may have plateaued in Quebec, but they remain at a deadly level, Premier François Legault said Thursday as the province counted another 1,033 cases and 20 new deaths.
Legault and government health officials had initially signalled a victory when cases appeared to level off around 1,000 cases per day. They haven’t climbed higher, but have remained constant for two weeks now, longer than the premier had hoped.
“What we thought was that there would be a plateau and then there would be a decrease as a result of the measures announced in early October,” Legault said at a COVID-19 briefing in Quebec City. “Now what we see is that we’ve reached the plateau, but there’s no decline.”
The problem, he said, is that 1,000 cases per day are enough to overwhelm the province’s hospitals in the long term, because increasingly vulnerable people are bound to catch the virus and require medical care.
“Our health network cannot bear the consequences of 1,000 new cases per day,” Legault said. “One thousand new cases per day means, as today, 20 new deaths per day. We can’t say to ourselves, ‘We accept this situation.’ ”
The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals is a new challenge for much of the province, but cases are also climbing at long-term care homes, conjuring memories of the first wave when the virus killed thousands in ill-prepared CHSLDs and seniors’ residences.
The health ministry has deployed so-called SWAT teams to at least three stricken CHSLDs in the Quebec City region, Saguenay—Lac-St-Jean and Montérégie, where more than a third and in some cases almost three-quarters of residents are infected with the virus. The teams are composed of ministry professionals whose job is to quell out-of-control COVID-19 outbreaks and prevent the infections from spreading further.
Health Minister Christian Dubé said the ministry is better prepared this time, but he still worries the virus will take advantage of tired staff members and find weaknesses in infection-control protocols.
“I sleep very badly these days,” he said, describing how it felt to constantly worry the virus will sweep through long-term care homes like it did in the spring.
Quebec’s long-term care homes are in better shape now than they were at the beginning of the first wave, Dubé said.
“So far, we have managed — not perfectly — to control the epidemic in the CHSLDs, with the exception of four or five CHSLDs where the outbreak is more significant despite the prevention and control system,” he said.
The second wave of COVID-19 is wreaking havoc across the world, not just in Quebec. Legault pointed to the United States, the United Kingdom and France, where hospitalizations and cases are being tallied at even higher rates than Quebec, which remains the hardest-hit province in Canada. Those countries, he said, are having an even more difficult time. But the situation is unlikely to improve in Quebec in the near future, he continued, unless Quebecers double their efforts to reduce their contacts.
“Several countries have had to put in place much stricter health regulations than we have. That’s what will happen to us if nothing is done,” Legault said in a statement released after the briefing. “I am therefore asking for a great collective effort to save our health network and to save lives.”
He urged Quebecers to work from home if at all possible. They should do everything possible to reduce their contacts with one another.
Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s public health director, said workplaces are accounting for 46 per cent of Quebec’s outbreaks, but he added that outbreaks in seniors’ residences and hospitals are more worrying because they have often been larger and infected people who were older or more vulnerable to complications.