After hinting for weeks that public health restrictions in COVID-19 red zones might continue past the end of October, Quebec Premier François Legault has announced they will be prolonged into November, and even expanded — with Grade 9 students joining their older peers who have been learning from home every other day.
The seven-day average of new daily cases in the province was at more than 1,000 for much of October.
Legault said cases are spread through "society as a whole," but he also struck a positive note, pointing to long-term care homes, where the number of cases is 85 per cent lower than what it was in the first wave.
"During the first 28 days, we were able to stabilize. We think it will take another 28 days to see a reduction," Legault said.
Public health officials will re-evaluate the situation in two weeks and could lift some restrictions if there is a significant drop in new cases, Legault said.
The decision to expand online learning to include Grade 9 students was based on the fact that there are more cases in that age group, the premier said, and that they tend to spread the virus more.
As of Monday, Grade 9 students will attend classes in person every other day, doing the rest of their learning from home. Their peers in Grades 10 and 11 have been doing so since early October.
"The last thing I want to do is close the schools," Legault said. Nearly 900 classes are currently home because of cases, meaning about 97 per cent of Quebec children are in school, he said.
Rise in hospitalizations a concern
Legault said the number of daily cases and deaths remains too high for red zones to reopen safely and Health Minister Christian Dubé pointed to the rise in hospitalizations as a concern.
"Our health system is so fragile right now that … we just can't afford to have 2,000, 3,000 cases [per day]," Dubé said, explaining there is still a backlog of thousands of surgeries from the first wave.
There are 565 people in hospital with COVID-19 in Quebec. Dubé said that as long as the numbers are that high, the delays for surgeries will keep growing.
Quebec recorded 808 new cases of the novel coronavirus Monday and 879 Sunday.
Quebecers in designated red zones are asked not to gather with people living outside of their household — unless they live alone, in which case they are allowed to pair up with another single-occupant household for however long their region is red.
Restaurant dining rooms and gyms are also closed in red zones, but stores and a number of other businesses and workplaces, including shopping centres, are allowed to remain open.
WATCH | What life is like inside a red zone:
Late last month, Legault announced a series of public health measures that would be categorized according to four alert levels in Quebec's different regions. Each region is coded by a colour that designates its alert level.
Out of 19 regions outlined by the province, 10 are either fully or partially in red, the maximum alert level.