More masking imposed in Quebec seniors homes as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations rise

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MONTREAL — Mask-wearing will be mandatory in common areas of private seniors residences in several parts of Quebec starting next week, the Health Department said Friday, amid a rise in COVID-19 cases in those facilities.

Seniors Minister Marguerite Blais said Friday on Twitter "a rise in COVID is leading us to be extra careful," regarding the decision to impose more masking. The new order will affect residences in regions such as Montreal and its northern suburb Laval, Estrie and Outaouais.

Health officials said there were 67 active cases of COVID-19 at seniors residences across Quebec. Nearly half those cases were linked to an outbreak at Manoir Gouin in Montreal, where 32 residents have active cases of COVID-19 and three have died. There have been no other deaths linked to active COVID-19 outbreaks at seniors residences in the province, the Health Department added.

Health officials said Friday there were 41 cases of COVID-19 linked to long-term care facilities and two deaths connected with active outbreaks in those centres.

Dr. André Veillette, an immunologist at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute, which is affiliated with Université de Montréal, said the 32 cases at Manoir Gouin is a lot for one facility. It could be due to bad luck, lack of vaccination, but it might also be a sign the protection offered by the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine is progressively waning, he said.

"I think one of the questions that need to be addressed very fast, and it's the same for CHSLDs (long-term care homes), whether these people should get a third dose," Veillette said.

"I think there's enough evidence in other places in the world that I think warrants these people being vaccinated with a third dose."

Quebec's immunization committee recently recommended a third dose for those who are immunocompromised or undergoing dialysis, but it has not done so for people in elder care settings.

"I think it's to be expected there will be cases, there are even cases among younger, vaccinated people," Veillette said. "But what we don't want is for them to get very sick or die … and we don't want them to be hospitalized either."

If cases continue to rise in seniors homes and long-term care residences, then the facilities would enforce basic health orders such as masking and physical distancing, Veillette said. But he said he doesn't expect a return to the tragedies that unfolded during earlier waves.

"We're in very good shape," he said. "We will see some people catching the virus even with a lot of people vaccinated," adding that there will be occasional cases in which the vaccines don't work very well.

Meanwhile, the Health Department confirmed Thursday it had asked hospital managers in five regions, including Montreal, Laval and the Outaouais, to increase the number of beds reserved for COVID-19 patients.

The increase is “primarily a result of the demand for intensive care beds for COVID patients,” Health Department spokeswoman Marjorie Larouche wrote in an email. Adding to the number of beds reserved for COVID-19 patients will reduce the number of beds available for others, she said.

A government health-care research institute, INESSS, said Thursday that while the number of new COVID-19 cases in the province has stabilized after rising for two months, it expected the number of hospitalizations linked to the disease to continue rising over the next three weeks.

The Health Department reported 701 new COVID-19 cases Friday and two more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. It said the number of hospitalizations rose by 15, to 298, after 50 patients entered hospital in the past 24 hours and 35 were discharged. There were 91 people in intensive care, a rise of one.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Jacob Serebrin and Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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