COVID-19 in Quebec: 69 more deaths announced Sunday as hospitalization numbers stablize

The latest:

  • Quebec has 24,107 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,515 people have died — an increase of 69 deaths since Saturday.
  • There are 1,518 people in hospital, including 215 in intensive care. Here’s a guide to the numbers.
  • Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda says he now recommends people wear a mask in public if they anticipate being in a situation where they cannot stay two metres away from other people.
  • Quebec will release details on how it will ease restrictions next week. The process is expected to start May 4.

As Quebec readies its plan to begin loosening its COVID-19 containment measures, an infectious disease specialist says it’s essential to monitor the health of those who have recovered to watch for any sign of reinfection.

Based on what is known about viruses and bacterial infections, “there’s a very high likelihood” that an infected person would be immune against a second infection, says Dr. Benoit Barbeau, an epidemiologist and professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal’s department of biological sciences.

But, for now, there is no data proving that immunity to the virus is widespread among recovered patients. 

He said it’s out of caution that Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief medical officer, has warned against relying on the population developing an immunity to the virus until more research is done.

“While this particular virus can have a very devastating impact on seniors and elders and underlying medical conditions, it can actually result in quite severe outcomes even for the young and for the rest of the population,” she said Saturday.

Premier François Legault has promised to reveal a timeline this week outlining when some businesses and schools will be able to reopen.

Last week, Legault and provincial public health director Horacio Arruda said the concept of herd immunity will factor into their decision-making.

Barbeau says Tam’s comments may seem to be “a contradiction at the surface” to what is being said in Quebec, but he noted the province has indicated any return to a semblance of normalcy would be very gradual.

And he said that while Ottawa appears to taking a more cautious tone, Quebec is still being responsible in its approach. 

He pointed to more drastic plans such as the United Kingdom’s initial strategy to use herd immunity to fight the virus, a direction from which the country has since changed course.

“They stopped very quickly that measure because of the number of deaths and the toll on their medical system was way too high,” Barbeau said.

Quebec’s government has suggested that lifting confinement measures  — which include the banning of all gatherings and the closure of schools, daycares and most businesses — won’t happen all at once, and would be accompanied by guidelines on wearing masks in public and more widespread testing.

Barbeau says it will be critical that the number of new cases each day is closely monitored, and that adjustments be made if there are signs of another wave of infection.

 As of Sunday, there were 24,107 confirmed cases in Quebec, an increase of 840 from a day earlier.

He said serological tests, which measure the immune system, will be important to track how strong natural immunity to the virus is among the population.

The government is currently prioritizing screening tests, which only determine whether the person is infected or not. 

As Quebec eases restrictions, he says it’s likely that the province will “slowly go in that direction of herd immunity.” 

But achieving herd immunity could take years, and it’s more likely that a vaccine will be ready first, he said.

“I’m pretty optimistic that people will show protective immunity, but as Dr. Tam said, we have to wait to be really clear that this is the case,” he said.

Jewish General Hospital says ‘stay home’

Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital — one of the main centres for treating COVID-19 in the province — is trying to correct “the false belief” that the disease only affects the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.

In a video released Saturday, an emergency room physician notes that federal government statistics indicate the greatest number of cases have been in those between 40 and 59 years old.

“After that we see a lot of cases in those between 20 and 39 years of age,” Dr. Jonathan Cooperman says in the video. 

He adds: “Coronavirus can affect anybody. Stay home and don’t become a statistic.”

The message from the Jewish General comes as the Quebec government is expected to begin releasing details of how the province will end the lockdown that’s been in place since March 23.

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