House parties spark COVID-19 outbreak in Bas-Saint-Laurent region, shuts down 2 colleges

All in-person activities and courses have been suspended at two schools in La Pocatière, a town in Quebec's Bas-Saint-Laurent region, after several students tested positive for COVID-19.

Cégep de La Pocatière, as well as the La Pocatière campus of the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire, are both dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks, the institutions announced on Facebook Wednesday.

According to the CISSS du Bas-Saint-Laurent, the cases are likely connected to a party held in the region at the end of August, where more than 100 people were in attendance.

The regional health authority is asking that everyone who has been to bars in La Pocatière or Rivière-du-Loup, and everyone who attended the party get tested for COVID-19. Some 225 people have set appointments for a screening.

So far, the CISSS says at least a dozen students have the disease and there has been a second degree of transmission.

But tracing every case linked to house parties with no reliable guest list is a challenge, said the region's health director, Dr. Sylvain Leduc.

'Serves as a warning'

Leduc says his department has been working with the post-secondary institutions since before the start of the school year to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but getting everybody to co-operate has proved difficult.

The region will be moved up from green to yellow under Quebec's new colour-coded alert system. Yellow means "early warning" and now sanitary measures are being beefed up at local health centres.

Jérôme Lévesque-Boucher/Radio-Canada
Jérôme Lévesque-Boucher/Radio-Canada

"We have already noted the situation even before raising the level. We are enhancing our precautionary measures in our CISSS facilities and we will increase the number of screening tests in the coming days," said Leduc.

The plan is to test as many people as they can and get positive cases in isolation as quickly as possible to prevent further spread of the potentially deadly disease, he said.

The head of the CEGEP, Marie-Claude Deschênes, believes that the situation will serve as a lesson for students.

"I think we were the unlucky ones where the outbreak happened more quickly, but it's probably a question of time across Quebec if private gatherings continue without appropriate health measures," she said.

"I think this signals the need to be careful."

Students at both schools will be switching to online courses until Sept. 24.