MONTREAL — The rising number of patients being treated for COVID-19 risks forcing hospitals to cancel major surgeries, Premier Francois Legault said Wednesday.
Hospitalizations tied to the novel coronavirus have doubled in Quebec over the past two weeks, Legault told reporters, adding that the pressure on the "already fragile" health-care system could lead to difficult decisions.
If cases continue to double every week, he said, there’s a risk the province’s health-care system won’t be able to treat everyone who needs to see a doctor and that major surgeries could be postponed.
"My objective isn't to be popular; my objective is to save the health-care system," Legault said, adding that Quebecers should stay home unless they are going to work or school.
Authorities reported 900 new infections Wednesday and one death they said occurred in the past 24 hours. The province said six earlier deaths have been attributed to the novel coronavirus, bringing the total to 5,906 since the pandemic began.
Hospitalizations increased by 12 to 409, with 62 patients in intensive care, a decrease of five.
Public health officials in Montreal said Wednesday there are 130 COVID-19 outbreaks in the city. Of those, 42 occurred in schools, 50 in workplaces and 12 occurred in private senior care centres -- including in one that is tied to 25 infections.
While the second wave has largely affected younger people, Montreal's public health director, Mylene Drouin, told reporters Wednesday she's concerned by the rise in cases among the elderly.
Legault said that while some large cities in the United States have comparable death rates to Montreal, others, such as Boston and New York City, have higher rates. Toronto, however, stands out from the other large cities on the continent, with significantly fewer deaths, he said.
While Quebec has shut bars and restaurant dining rooms, Ontario, which has fewer restrictions, continues to report fewer infections than Quebec.
Public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda said there are a number of different factors that could be having an effect. Polling for instance, suggests Quebecers may have been less compliant with instructions from public health officials, he said.
It’s a question experts have been unable to answer.
Kate Zinszer, a professor at Universite de Montreal’s school of public health said, “There’s so many possibilities, it could be due to the different measures that are in place."
Compliance with those measures, she said in an interview Wednesday, could be a factor, as could the consistency of messaging from public health authorities. Adding to the difficulty, she said, is that the data needed to make comparisons isn’t available.
Health Minster Christian Dube told reporters Wednesday that Quebec has improved some elements of its COVID-19 response, including its testing program, adding that there’s still room for improvement when it comes to contact tracing.
If people continue to not pick up the phone when called by a contact tracer, they risk spreading the virus without it knowing it, he said.
Earlier Wednesday, the government said it will allow up to two people at a time to visit dying relatives in long-term care homes and will not limit the number of visits a patient can receive. Visits to long-term care centres were prohibited during the first wave of the pandemic last spring.
Meanwhile, eighteen players and staff of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team based in the Montreal area, have tested positive for COVID-19.
League commissioner Gilles Courteau said in a news release, “Although our sanitary and medical protocol is very strict and rigorous, we knew that COVID-19 was highly infectious and could eventually hit certain players and team staff members."
The team, along with the Sherbrooke Phoenix, who played two games against the Armada over the weekend, suspended operations Monday after an Armada player tested positive.
That positive result came just hours after the QMJHL condemned the Quebec government's decision to ban team sports in parts of the province under the maximum pandemic alert level, which include the Montreal area.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2020.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press