MONTREAL — The positivity rate for COVID-19 testing in Quebec reached 1.4 per cent on Sunday — the highest it's been since late May.
New COVID-19 infections are also on the rise, according to the Health Department. Officials reported 154 new cases of COVID-19 Monday and 347 new infections identified on Friday and Saturday. Quebec has reported an average of 139 new cases a day over the past seven days, up from an average of 57 a week prior.
Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist at the McGill University Health Centre, says the trends are concerning. The rising positivity rate in the province "means that there is still ongoing community transmission," he said in an interview Monday.
He is also concerned because Quebec's rate on Sunday reflected fewer overall tests compared with late May. On May 31, Quebec recorded a test positivity rate of 1.5 per cent based on 15,783 tests. On Sunday, Quebec analyzed 11,202 tests.
The big question, Vinh said, is whether the jump in the positivity rate is a sign Quebecers should expect cases to rise even more in late August and September, when classes at schools, junior colleges and universities resume. "If it's already increased when we are in the 'safe' outdoors, what's going to happen when we're in the indoors? That's where the concern is," he said.
Despite the rise in cases, deaths and hospitalizations linked to the novel coronavirus haven't followed suit.
The Health Department, which no longer provides COVID-19 updates on weekends, said no deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus have been reported in the province since Thursday. It said the number of those hospitalized increased by one since its last report, to 61, and 17 people were in intensive care — unchanged since Friday's update.
Health officials said 38,247 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered Sunday and Quebec's public health institute reported that 84.6 per cent of residents 12 and up have received at least one dose of vaccine while 68 per cent are adequately vaccinated.
Dr. André Veillette, an immunologist at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute and member of the federal government's COVID-19 vaccine task force, said it's likely the number of active COVID-19 cases in the province is higher than testing data suggests.
"I think we should be worried, but I think that what we should be even more worried about is that we're not worried enough," Veillette said. "We've all become a little bit complacent."
Veillette said the rise in cases in the province is likely the result of the more contagious Delta variant of the virus.
Data from Quebec's public health institute on Monday, however, indicates the percentage of positive COVID-19 cases involving variants dropped the week ending July 24, compared with the prior week. But Judith Fafard, a medical microbiologist at the Institut national de santé publique du Québec, said that data is incomplete.
It takes time, she explained, for results to be gathered and processed from the province's decentralized laboratory network. The most reliable data on variants comes from the week ending July 17, which showed a rise in the percentage of cases involving the Delta variant from the prior week.
The percentage of cases involving the Alpha variant — which accounted for more than 80 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in Quebec in mid-May — has also been dropping since the last week of that month, she said.
"It would be surprising if we were any different from England, the other provinces and the United States, so what's replacing Alpha is probably the Delta variant," she said.
"We know that the Delta variant is in Quebec and that it is growing."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 2, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press