With 355 new cases and 45 additional recorded deaths in the past 24 hours, Montreal’s battle with COVID-19 is far from won, and city officials are ramping up efforts to test anyone who is showing signs of infection.
The city’s public health director, Dr. Mylène Drouin, announced Monday that, despite her assertion on April 16 that the rate of increase had begun to level off, the situation now appears to be getting worse.
“We are not lowering the epidemic curve,” said Drouin. “We can see a plateau and even an increase in cases.”
Montreal now has 16,606 confirmed cases. A total of 1,410 Montrealers have died from COVID-19 complications — most of them seniors who were in long-term care.
The number of people in hospital, however, is plateauing, Drouin said. Of the 1,055 Montrealers now in hospital with COVID-19, 137 are in intensive care.
Drouin said testing will now target everybody who has COVID-19 symptoms, such as respiratory trouble, fever and coughing. Drouin said health-care workers and anyone else who has had contact with confirmed COVID-19 patients will be tested, as well.
She said people who do not have symptoms should not be tested, as that’s not effective. She said businesses should not require employees to be tested before returning to work.
The Quebec government said earlier Monday that starting this week, it plans to significantly increase the number of tests performed daily, from approximately 5,000 tests to more than 14,000.
Among the strategies to increase testing on the island of Montreal, six city buses will be converted into mobile testing sites that can test about 100 people a day.
Mayor Valérie Plante said these rolling clinics are in addition to stationary units that have already been set up throughout the city, especially in the districts of Montréal-Nord and Saint-Michel, where there has been a startling increase of infections.
Drouin said some of the new testing sites will be walk-in clinics, and others will require an appointment. Those looking to get tested should first call 1-877-644-4545.
Masks in tight public spaces a must: Drouin
Meanwhile, Drouin said, Montrealers have to do their part by maintaining a safe distance from others and wearing a mask or other face-covering wherever keeping two metres’ distance is impossible.
Drouin said there were a lot of people out over the weekend when the weather warmed up, and many were neglecting to maintain physical distancing.
“I know we want to go back to a normal life, but we really cannot stop our effort,” she said.
Plante said even though certain economic sectors are opening, people cannot gather at private dwellings, in stores or in public parks, and city police will continue to enforce those restrictions.
On Saturday night, the parking lots of several major parks were closed to help reduce the number of people in the parks, and police were out in force, handing out tickets to those failing to respect public health guidelines.
It’s critical to be able to keep green spaces in the city open, said Plante, because so many people don’t have backyards or balconies.
She said the city is looking for other ways to increase options for people to enjoy the warmer weather. It has already widened some sidewalks on busy commercial arteries, by freeing up a parking lane for pedestrians.
On the densely populated Plateau Mont-Royal, some residential streets were closed to all but local traffic on the weekend, to make streets more family friendly. Plante says that initiative may be expanded to other neighbourhoods.
“We expect to have more of those,” Plante said. “That’s our goal, so that we can better support Montrealers in their need to go out, but again, in a safe way.”
Using caution in reopening the city
Outside of the greater Montreal region, businesses began reopening Monday, and the plan was to restart much of Montreal’s economy by May 11.
But in looking at the high hospitalization rates in Montreal, the Legault government announced earlier Monday it would delay the reopening of much of Montreal’s retail sector by one week, to May 18.
Both Drouin and Plante commended the delay.
“I think it’s going to give us the time to see if we have specific outbreaks or sustained transmission in some neighbourhoods where we have to intervene first,” said Drouin.
Plante said it is hard to say how hard the city’s economy will be hit by the continuing public health restrictions, but there’s no doubt that it will be difficult. Regardless, she said, her priority is to protect the health and safety of the population.
Trying to provide that level of protection while opening key public infrastructure, such as libraries and public pools, makes for a significant challenge, and much has yet to be sorted out, she said.
Plante said the strategy to offer day camps and reopen key city services will be announced in the coming weeks.
The Société de transport de Montréal (STM) hopes to announce its plan to ensure passengers can safely use public transit by the end of the week, said STM chair Philippe Schnobb.