A karaoke night at a Quebec City bar has been linked to a growing number of cases of COVID-19, including several at local schools, and there are reports the bar's customers flouted isolation orders while waiting for their test results.
Public health officials in Quebec City said Wednesday they have traced 10 secondary cases of COVID-19 back to Bar Kirouac on top of the original 40 linked to a karaoke night there on Aug. 23.
"We're pretty sure that three positive cases, namely children, got the virus from somebody who was celebrating something at this bar," said Dr. Jacques Girard, who heads the Quebec City public health authority.
There are six schools in the Quebec City region that have reported cases of COVID-19, three of which are connected to Bar Kirouac, he said.
According to Girard, his office has shifted focus to deal with "people who tested positive [and] may have gone to other places, in particular, other bars."
WATCH | Quebec City karaoke night linked to COVID-19 outbreak:
Public health officials are targeting six other bars that patrons of Bar Kirouac have visited, Girard said.
He declined to name the bars, and said the exact number of Bar Kirouac patrons was not known, although he said "one person in particular did the grand tour" and "went everywhere."
There haven't been any secondary cases connected to the other bars, but Girard said that could change in the next day or two.
"We hope they were careful if they went to other bars," he said. "But I'll tell you that I'm not convinced that happened."
Étienne Doyon, an acting sergeant with Quebec City police, said police assisted public health with an investigation into the bar.
That case is closed, but could be reopened if new information comes to light, he said.
Doyon said there is a second investigation into the patrons who frequented Bar Kirouac. That investigation is also in collaboration with public health, but he did not say what crime, if any, may have been committed.
Some bars temporarily close
The owners of La Gamelle, another Quebec City bar that offers karaoke nights, said they have temporarily closed their establishment after learning they served two customers from Bar Kirouac who should have been in self-isolation on Saturday and Sunday.
Those two customers visited La Gamelle after learning they may have been infected at Bar Kirouac and while they were waiting for their test results — which ultimately came back positive.
The two people went into La Gamelle even though a sign taped to the bar's entrance specifically asked Kirouac customers to stay out.
"I find it a little dishonest of them," said Geneviève Tremblay, La Gamelle's co-owner. "They should have stayed at home as required by the government."
Lucien Simard, the owner of Bar Kirouac, also said that some of his regulars who were supposed to be in isolation went to other bars in recent days.
"There are people who sent me messages telling me that they were infected but that they were in other bars," Simard told Radio-Canada in an interview. "You see the problem?"
Girard said Wednesday public health orders have been used against two people connected to the Bar Kirouac outbreak — one to oblige someone to stay in quarantine, and another to ensure someone co-operated with the investigation. The public health director has more latitude to apply such orders during a declared health emergency.
Videos show close contact
Quebec's health minister, Christian Dubé, singled out Bar Kirouac on Tuesday, saying he was looking into fines for customers and staff after videos on social media emerged showing patrons in close contact and sharing microphones.
The developments come as public health authorities in Quebec City deal with a recent spike in cases of COVID-19. On Wednesday, Quebec's health ministry reported 23 new cases of COVID-19 in Quebec City — down from Tuesday's increase of 31 but still considerably higher than the relative trickle of new cases over the past two months.
Before the weekend, new cases in the region had not reached double digits since July 13.
Girard said that Bar Kirouac's permit is for just over 100 people and noted that 40 cases connected to a single event was "a highly significant proportion."
The particular circumstances of that Aug. 23 evening provided what he called "the conditions for the virus to have the capacity to infect a lot of people."
Arruda warns against singing
Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's public health director, said it is crucial that people remain vigilant and adhere to the province's safety protocols as the coronavirus can be lurking anywhere.
Arruda said singing has proven to be a way to propagate COVID-19 as it spreads airborne droplets more efficiently than other activities. People should avoid activities such as karaoke and dancing, he said.
"The droplets go into the air, and you will get infected," he said during a news conference in the Lac St-Jean region Wednesday, suggesting people do such things online instead so the droplets stay on the screen rather than spread.
"I am concerned with the fact that, if we do repeat this kind of karaoke situation, it won't be good for the control of the transmission in the community."
In this case, local health authorities are getting the situation under control, he said.