Montreal's public health director on Wednesday encouraged people not to share glasses, cigarettes and food, after her agency identified nine COVID-19 outbreaks linked to outdoor gatherings at city parks.
While the risk of COVID-19 transmission outdoors is low, people still need to be careful, Dr. Mylène Drouin told reporters.
"Even though we are outside and the risk is lower, we have to maintain distancing and, of course, do not share glasses, cigarettes or whatever, food, with friends or people that are not in your family," Drouin said.
Each of the nine park-related outbreaks involve fewer than 10 cases, she added.
The outbreaks linked to parks account for more than half of the 16 active outbreaks connected to "community settings" — places described by the city's public health agency as being other than workplaces, schools or hospitals. There are 216 total active outbreaks in Montreal, including 84 in workplaces, 64 in schools, 26 in daycares and 12 in health-care settings, Drouin said.
She said public health expects to see more community outbreaks in the coming weeks as restrictions are lifted. Most new cases are among schoolchildren, she said, adding that the number of cases among people 18 to 24 has been rising.
Drouin said Montreal has successfully avoided a third wave of COVID-19, which she credited to the public health department's "suppressive approach." That approach, she explained, involves aggressive contact tracing and quickly closing schools and workplaces with outbreaks involving variants of concern.
Targeted vaccination campaigns aimed at people going to school or living in variant hot spots coupled with the province's strict health orders also played a role, she said.
"We wouldn't be talking about reopening different sectors of activity right now if we had been in a third wave in April or the beginning of May," Drouin told the news conference.
Drouin said Montreal — which has been at the red pandemic-alert level since last fall — is "flirting with the orange zone." On Tuesday, Quebec Premier François Legault said Montreal and its northern suburb of Laval would remain at the highest alert level until at least June 7.
While Montreal has seen a significant decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases reported over the past two days — dropping from 160 new cases on May 23 to 96 new cases on May 25 — Drouin warned that drop corresponds with a steep decline in the number of tests conducted over the long holiday weekend.
Drouin said if the number of new cases continues to drop, she is confident Montreal could reopen on June 7, but she warned that public health will make a final determination in the coming days.
"If it's not (June 7), it's going to be soon," she said.
Quebec on Wednesday reported fewer than 400 new daily COVID-19 cases for the second day in a row — a first since mid-September. Health officials reported 308 new infections and four more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, none of which occurred in the previous 24 hours. The Montérégie region, southeast of Montreal, had the second-highest number of new cases in the province, with 40.
Officials said hospitalizations dropped by 16, to 399, and 101 people were in intensive care, unchanged since Tuesday's report.
The province said it administered 58,764 doses of vaccine Tuesday, for a total of 5,111,646; about 56.2 per cent of Quebec residents have received at least one dose. Quebec's public health institute said 5.7 per cent of residents are fully vaccinated, meaning they have received two doses of vaccine or have recovered from COVID-19 and have received one dose.
In Montreal, 80 per cent of health-care workers have now received at least one dose of vaccine, Sonia Bélanger, CEO of the health board for south-central Montreal, told reporters, adding that 35 per cent of them have received a booster shot.
Drouin said 69 per cent of Montrealers 12 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine or have an appointment to receive one.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press