Legault sends reinforcements as a single Quebec care home reports over 100 cases

MONTREAL — Premier Francois Legault announced Tuesday that he was diverting health-care workers from Quebec's hospitals to serve in the province's hard-hit seniors' residences, as one long-term care home north of Montreal reported more than 100 cases of COVID-19.

The premier said that because the province's hospitals remain below capacity, doctors and nurses will be transferred to help serve in private residences and care facilities, the source of more than half of the province's COVID-19 deaths.

"It remains the great priority to protect those who are most vulnerable to this virus, such as people 70 years old and up," Legault said Tuesday in Quebec City.

One of the largest recorded outbreaks is sweeping through a long-term care home north of Montreal, where 105 people had tested positive for COVID-19 and eight had died as of Tuesday morning.

A spokeswoman for the regional health authority said the Centre d'hebergement Ste-Dorothee in Laval decided to test all its residents last Friday to learn the size of the outbreak.

This testing revealed 69 new cases among the 174 tested, in addition to the several dozen cases previously reported among residents and staff, spokeswoman Judith Goudreau said in an email.

Goudreau said 87 health-care employees are affected across the region, however it's unclear how many of those are associated with the care home.

"This pandemic is a tragedy for several families who are living difficult moments," she said. "It's equally difficult for staff members."

Doctors, nurses and infectious disease prevention specialists have been sent to the residence in Laval, Health Minister Danielle McCann confirmed.

While the province moved early to ban visitors to seniors' homes and long-term care homes, almost one-quarter of them had at least one case of COVID-19 as of last week, according to Legault.

Health officials have scrambled to put new protocols in place, including limiting the number of personnel who work in multiple locations.

The province's chief public health doctor, Horacio Arruda, said he believed asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people, including health workers, may have played a role in introducing the virus, despite the strict controls.

He said that almost 45 per cent of the province's deaths have been tied to long-term care homes, while a further 20 per cent were linked to seniors' residences. The vast majority of those who have died have been over the age of 70, Arruda said Tuesday.

Quebec recorded another 760 cases of COVID-19, bringing the province's total to 9,340. There were also 29 additional deaths, for a total of 150.

Once again, Legault pointed to the low number of new cases requiring hospitalization as a sign that social distancing measures are beginning to work.

The number of hospitalizations rose by 50 to 583, and the number of patients in intensive care remained unchanged at 164.

The province is expected to reveal a series of projections and scenarios regarding the possible course of the outbreak later Tuesday.

Legault said the projections would reflect the fact that Quebecers are "making progress," but stressed that now was not the time to relax physical distancing measures.

Reinforcing the message that measures will continue for a while, the Canadian Grand Prix, held annually in June in Montreal, was postponed Tuesday due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said the city is putting a stop on all cultural and sporting events until July 2.

Legault had some good news for the province's children, in response to a video from a young girl who had asked him if the tooth fairy could still visit her home during COVID-19.

"I can confirm that the tooth fairy now is on the list of essential services and is immune to the coronavirus," Legault said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 7, 2020

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press