Public health fears more novel coronavirus variants in Montreal than tests suggest

·2 min read

Montreal's COVID-19 infection rate remains on a high plateau, the city's public health director said Wednesday, as she warned that new cases of variants of the novel coronavirus may be circulating undetected.

Dr. Mylene Drouin told reporters that nine cases of new COVID-19 variants have been confirmed in the city, adding that 23 suspected cases remain unconfirmed. Another 12 cases, she said, are believed to be variants because they are linked to confirmed cases.

The majority of new variant spread has been within families, Drouin said; however, she added, officials suspect an outbreak at a Montreal school of the variant first detected in the United Kingdom.

"This is the first outbreak that we are seeing," she said, about a variant. The school, which Drouin did not identify, has been temporarily closed. She said that as a precaution, public health is treating suspected cases of variants as if they are confirmed because it can take weeks to confirm a variant and by that time, she said, it's too late to act.

Efforts are also being made to identify suspected variant cases faster, she said, adding that one laboratory has started screening all positive tests for mutations associated with variants. But not all Montreal laboratories that process COVID-19 tests can do the screening, she said.

Drouin said there may be cases of new variants circulating undetected in Montreal. "We may be missing some."

While the numbers of new, daily cases and outbreaks reported in the city have declined since early January, Drouin said the downward trend has slowed since schools reopened. Over the past week, she said, the number of new cases appears to have stabilized at around 500 a day, which she described as a "high plateau."

Public health officials reported 499 new cases of COVID-19 in Montreal on Wednesday — more than half the 989 new cases reported that day across the province. The neighbouring territory of Monteregie was the only other Quebec region to report more than 100 new cases, with 137.

Health officials reported 34 new deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus and said hospitalizations dropped by 22, to 918, and 148 people were in intensive care, a rise of three. The province says it administered 3,174 doses of vaccine Tuesday, for a total of 266,590.

Earlier in the day, Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault said that some of the added restrictions the government is considering for spring break week — starting March 1 — include roadblocks on the boundary with Ontario.

Quebec has reported a total of 272,726 COVID-19 infections and 10,112 deaths linked to the virus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2021.

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

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press