With Quebec surpassing the 100,000 mark in new COVID-19 cases Sunday, it’s clear the winter ahead will be challenging, two epidemiologists said.
“I’m concerned that we’ve reached the 100,000 mark,” said Catherine Hankins, a professor of public health at McGill University and co-chair of the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force.
“We’re just at the start of what will be a cold winter, so we really need to ramp up our public health response,” she said.
A major challenge will be to achieve a balance between distancing measures to check the virus’s spread and mental-health issues caused by loss of social contact, especially as winter weather forces people indoors, Hankins said.
We should take inspiration from the Scandinavian saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes,” she suggested.
“We should be able to get out in all types of weather and keep active if we dress appropriately, with the layers that we need,” she said.
Hankins proposed that the phrase “social distancing,” should be replaced by “physical distancing.”
There are still ways to connect with others while practising safety measures like avoiding gatherings, wearing masks, keeping a two-metre distance from people outside our household and hand washing, she said.
“One thing that’s important is that people continue to exercise,” she said.
“For our own mental health, we do need to keep physically active and, although physically distanced, we need to keep socially active, even if it’s by phone or online.”
For people who aren’t comfortable with videoconference apps, the good, old-fashioned telephone is a great way to stay in touch, she said.
“Pick up the phone. Don’t hesitate to call somebody. Don’t feel like you’re interrupting or bother them. Just pick up the phone and give them a call,” Hankins added.
Quebec reported 879 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday and 1,009 new cases Saturday, bringing the total to 100,114 since the first case was reported on Feb. 29.
Infections from Quebec continue to account for nearly half of Canada’s total, which stood at 213,959 on Saturday night.
Ontario, the province with the second-most infections, topped 1,000 cases for the first time on Sunday to reach a total of 70,373.
“I’m concerned to see that Ontario is getting up to our levels now. And I am really concerned when I look at places in Europe that thought they had it under some kind of reasonable control,” Hankins said.
Quebec has recorded more than 1,000 cases in seven of the last 10 days.
The province reported 11 more deaths on Sunday. Five of those fatalities occurred in the last 24 hours, another five occurred between Oct. 18 and 24 and one was from an unknown date.
The number of deaths associated with the virus now stands at 6,143.
The number of hospitalizations increased by two to 551. Of the patients hospitalized because of the virus, 97 are in intensive care, an increase of four from Saturday.
Of the new cases reported on Sunday, 146 were in Montreal, where a total of 40,869 have now been reported.
For the first time in a week, Montreal was not the region with the most new cases. Montérégie, with 162, reported the highest total.
Jay Kaufman, an epidemiologist at McGill University, said that with 800-1000 cases a day for almost three weeks now, “Quebec is not doing so badly” compared to many European countries and the United States.
However, with Quebec continuing to have the worst case counts in Canada, “there is still lots of room for concern,” he said.
The fact cases have plateaued in Quebec show distancing measures are working, he said.
“The cases are not declining, however, and hospitalizations are way up, and so I suspect that we will not be able to reopen closed businesses for some time still, which is terrible news for those businesspeople,” he added.
Hankins said there should be more emphasis on the contact-tracing cell phone app to fight the virus’s spread.
Additional measures to protect vulnerable residents of long-term care facilities that were hard hit during the first wave are essential, she added.
“We know that they’re an Achilles heel,” she said.
“This is the most vulnerable population and we really need to make sure that we get it right this time as best we can.”
With additional reporting by David Rudin
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