Montreal's hospital situation 'extremely tense,' says top official

·2 min read

The situation at Montreal's hospitals remains under control but is "extremely tense" as they contend with an onslaught of COVID-19 patients stemming from increased infections over the holiday period, said Sonia Bélanger, a senior public health official.

The same cracks that are appearing in the health-care network across the province are highly visible in the city, said Bélanger, who heads the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l'Île-de-Montréal.

Beds are filling up, some surgeries and other activities are being postponed, and staff are being shifted from their usual assignments to help with a growing population of COVID-19 patients, Bélanger said.

The network is adding 310 beds to accommodate non-COVID patients who may need to be moved out of hospitals and has also increased intensive care capacity, Bélanger said.

The Jewish General Hospital, the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal, the McGill University Health Centre and three hospitals grouped within the CIUSSS du Nord-de-l'Île-de-Montréal have added a total of 43 intensive care beds, she said.

But she warned that staffing issues mean those additions can only do so much.

"It's great to have extra beds, but we have to have the ability to staff those beds," Bélanger said, noting that around 1,000 health-care workers are currently absent, either because they have COVID-19 or are awaiting test results.

The majority of new cases have resulted from gatherings in homes, said Dr. Mylène Drouin, Montreal's public health director. She hypothesized that "small transgressions" — rather than big parties — largely account for case counts in the city that reached record highs in recent days.

Numbers have dipped in the last few days, Drouin said, but she said the number of people getting screened had also dipped. "It's too early to say if we've reached a plateau or downward trend," she said.

Testing more, sooner

A major issue, Drouin said, is that not enough people are being screened, and many are taking too long to do so. Those who experience flu-like symptoms should get tested immediately, she said, because "there's no other virus in circulation in the community."

Drouin said the average time between someone experiencing symptoms and getting tested was 2.7 days. "This is often the period where you are most contagious," she noted.

Although there have been outbreaks at schools, Drouin said, they have largely been minor, and have typically been the result of community transmission, not the cause.

Furthermore, Drouin said new rules — such as requiring procedural masks — should keep things in school in check.

The hardest hit areas in Montreal right now are Parc-Extension, Saint-Léonard, Saint-Michel, Saint-Laurent and Bordeaux-Cartierville, Drouin said.