Avoid gatherings, warn experts as 896 new COVID-19 cases reported in Quebec

The rising number of infections underlines the need for people to forgo social gatherings, said Dr. Jay Kaufman, an epidemiologist at McGill University.

MONTREAL, QUE.: SEPTEMBER 24, 2020 -- Staff from Park Extension Covid-19 testing centre hands surgical mask to a woman waiting in line in Montreal Thursday September 24, 2020. (John Mahoney / MONTREAL GAZETTE) ORG XMIT: 65056 - 4406

COVID-19 cases continued to soar over the weekend, with 896 new cases in Quebec on Sunday and 698 on Saturday, bringing the province’s total to 71,901.

The rising number of infections underlines the need for people to forgo social gatherings, said Dr. Jay Kaufman, an epidemiologist at McGill University.

Get-togethers with friends and family functions are likely the main cause of the recent uptick in the spread of the virus, which is seeing its highest numbers since cases peaked in April and May, he said.

“This means that it is largely up to individuals to ramp up their precautions and vigilance,” Kaufman warned.

On Friday, Health Minister Christian Dubé asked Quebecers to avoid all social contacts for the next 28 days in an effort to break the second wave of COVID-19.

“It is for a month — this is not permanent,” Dubé said at a press conference. “We’re asking you for a month of effort to break the second wave.”

With cases of COVID-19 surging, Viva Singer said there was no question of gathering with 14 members of her family to celebrate Yom Kippur on Sunday.

“With cases close to 900, it just didn’t seem prudent,” Singer said as she stopped to chat with a friend on Sherbrooke St. in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

Singer said she is didn’t think it would be safe for her 83-year-old mother to be exposed to so many people and feared that her mother and other seniors will be isolated during the long winter if Quebecers don’t follow the advice of public health officials.

“My mother is an active senior and she isn’t going to Florida this year,” Singer said. “Florida is a scary place right now.”

Kaufman said the reason it is important to avoid get-togethers is that indoor events are the most impactful in terms of spreading the virus. The super spreader karaoke outbreak in Quebec City in August is an example, he noted.

Since it is difficult for the government to enforce rules on what people do in the privacy of their own homes, it is incumbent on people to exercise patience and restraint, he said.

“This is the space in which we are losing this war, and it is a matter of individual education and responsibility to convince people to hold off on gatherings, events and celebrations for some weeks until community transmission falls,” he said.

Evelyn Couture said she is glad that the health minister has asked Quebecers to avoid all non-essential gatherings for 28 days.

“I think it should possibly be made mandatory,” said Couture, who is part-owner of Doghaus, a pet supply store in N.D.G.

“From what I saw this weekend, people are not taking it seriously. There were lots of people out and about in restaurants and on terrasses that didn’t seem to do be doing a great job of (social) distancing.”

Six months into the pandemic, Couture still has to remind some customers to use the hand sanitizer dispenser when they enter the store. “It should be automatic by this point,” she said.

Some customers still stand too close to others when waiting in line, she added.

Couture has maintained a small bubble throughout the pandemic because she lives with her 87-year-old father.

She doesn’t have anyone over for dinner and only allows two clients in the store at a time. With winter around the corner, she wonders whether customers will wait outside on frigid days.

Jane Critchlow said people should think twice about hosting or attending large, indoor gatherings.

“The worst-case scenario is that we return to what is was like in March and April or worse than that,” said Critchlow, who kept socially distant from her friends while at a dog park in N.D.G.

Critchlow won’t be having family or friends over for Thanksgiving. She’s thinking about buying an outdoor patio heater to maximize the amount of time she can spend outdoors this fall.

Critchlow called on the Quebec government and public health officials to get their messages straight on recommendations on avoiding large gatherings.

“People are sceptical because there has been a lot of backtracking on what’s recommended and it changes so often. The danger of that is that people start to take things less seriously,” she said.

Jon Druker said avoiding family get-togethers will be difficult as the weather gets colder.

“Looking forward, it’s going to be tough. People will want to be indoors because it will be colder and that sense of isolation for people is going to be greater,” he said in an N.D.G. Park.

His 15-year-old daughter Noa, a Grade 10 student at Villa Maria High School, said students her age “aren’t the best at following certain measures.”

“Our class sizes have increased and after school, when the bell rings, the hallways are jam-packed,” she said.

Dubé said Friday that Quebec has no plan to impose a second lockdown, in part because of fears that more people would instead gather in private homes.

But Kaufman warned that if people don’t limit their social contacts, more stringent measures could result.

“Further restrictions of bars, restaurants and other businesses are likely if things don’t turn a corner soon, and that will be tough for businesses that have already suffered a lot,” he said.

Quebec reported four new deaths Sunday, of which two were in the past 24 hours and the others between Sept. 20-25. Quebec’s death toll now stands at 5,825. Seven deaths were reported Saturday.

There were 216 people hospitalized for the virus Sunday, of whom 41 were in intensive care.

A total of 27,380 people tested on Friday, for a cumulative total of 2,260,835 people tested to date.

Kaufman said that while cases were concentrated in Montreal during the first wave in the spring, now they are more evenly spread across the province.

Montreal reported 1,542 new cases in the past week, for a cumulative total of 32,939. Two people died of COVID-19 in Montreal in the past week, and 31 people were hospitalized.

People were being asked to avoid Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital in the east end because of high patient volumes, the local east end health authority said Sunday night.

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