The exact case counts presented in the study, which looked at the period from March 24-29, are difficult to confirm, but the tendency toward higher case numbers could have an impact on the province’s already strained health network, experts say.
There were between 18,000 and 32,000 new COVID-19 infections per day last week across Quebec, according to an estimate released Friday by a Montreal-based research centre.
The results of the study by CIRANO should make Quebecers take the sixth wave of the pandemic seriously, Roxane Borges Da Silva, a professor at Université de Montréal’s school of public health who worked on the research, said in an interview.
The Quebec government, she added, should strengthen its messaging on COVID-19 and reconsider its plan to lift mask mandates in mid-April.
“It’s a very significant rise — non-negligible and worrisome — especially for those who are vulnerable to COVID and to health workers,” she said.
Late Monday, the premier seemed to be leaning in that direction, telling reporters “of course we have to continue to be careful.”
François Legault said cases have increased over the last few weeks and the government is reconsidering its plan to lift mask mandates next Friday.
“I have a meeting with public health experts tonight and we may extend wearing the mask for a couple of weeks after April 15.”
The exact case counts presented in the study, which looked at the period from March 24-29, are difficult to confirm, Borges Da Silva said, but the tendency is clear: the data indicates a rise in cases of between 20 per cent and 40 per cent over the previous week.
The research centre, which is composed of academics from various universities, surveys 3,000 people per week to ask if they’ve received a positive COVID-19 result.
Borges Da Silva said she worries the jump in cases could affect the health-care system.
“Even if it’s 0.001 per cent of people who end up in hospital out of 20,000 cases, it’s still a lot of people,” she said.
On Friday, the Quebec government said there were more than 11,000 health workers off the job due to COVID-19, up from the 8,600 announced during a government news conference on Sunday.
“The lack of (labour) and the significant increase in the number of health-care workers who have contracted COVID in recent weeks are affecting the offer of care,” the Health Ministry said in an email.
No plans to reimpose restrictions
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé has said the province is not planning to reimpose public health restrictions. The jump in cases was expected, Dubé said last Thursday, adding that Quebecers must learn to manage their own risk.
Borges Da Silva said the government is likely not considering new restrictions because it knows more about the Omicron mutation than it did during the fifth wave in the winter, when it imposed a curfew and closed many businesses.
She said other reasons include the fact more Quebecers are vaccinated now compared with the winter and that European countries haven’t seen big surges of patients in hospitals.
Over 90 per cent of the eligible population (age five and up) have received one dose of the vaccine, while 87 per cent have received two doses. Only 53 per cent have received three doses.
“They are also taking into account that it’s been two years that we’ve been in a pandemic and that there are an enormous amount of (economic) sectors that have suffered,” she said.
As a public health expert who also considers the mental health aspect of restrictions, she says she understands the need to avoid more closures.
She says, however, the government has gone “from one extreme to another” and hasn’t done enough to urge people to be careful, to isolate at the first sign of symptoms and to seek booster shots.
“The mask is a measure that is inexpensive, not very restrictive, but very effective,” she said. “But if we take it off, we’ll have trouble bringing it back.”
Dubé announced on Friday that pharmacists are now be able to prescribe the antiviral drug Paxlovid to COVID-19-positive patients who are at risk of developing complications, in an attempt to help reduce hospitalizations and deaths among the most vulnerable.