Montreal has 22 variant outbreaks, mostly at schools, daycares; nearly 10% of all cases are variants
MONTREAL -- Montreal reached a milestone this week in its campaign to "push back" the moment when COVID-19 variants overtake the original virus to become the dominant type in the city.
Beginning this week, 100 per cent of positive COVID-19 tests in the city have had their DNA screened to check if they are variant cases, said Montreal Public Health Director Dr. Mylene Drouin on Wednesday.
That comprehensive testing has also allowed a broader picture of variants' spread in the city.
Those tests are showing that about eight or 10 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in Montreal right now are variant cases, said Drouin. There are currently 22 outbreaks caused by a variant.
Those outbreaks are amost entirely happening in settings with children, said Drouin.
"These are mainly either in schools, or in daycares -- those are really the environments that were the most impacted" by the variants, she said.
"There are very few workplaces or care settings that are impacted by the variants, so you'll understand that when we look at the distribution of the age groups, it's young children and their parents."
She highlighted that it's extremely important not to have grandparents or other older people babysitting kids during March break.
She said there have been three outbreaks in total at workplaces, one of which was big enough to close the workplace.
She said that since early January, seven local schools have closed due to variant outbreaks, to the best of her recollection when asked off the cuff, but said some of them have since reopened.
The contact tracing is more stringent when variants are involved, she said, and the decisions to close outbreak sites taken very seriously, but it's still decided on a case-by-case basis.
That goal of screening 100 per cent of Montreal's known COVID cases was set out publicly by Quebec's health minister earlier this month, but he said at the time that he didn't know if it would be possible.
Despite this "good news," however, Dr. Drouin suggested the city and province are no longer hoping to keep the highly contagious U.K. variant in particular out of Quebec.
Instead, she spoke repeatedly of slowing and pushing back its spread.
"Our first objective is to push back the entry of the variant," she said.
"It's known that the variant is more transmissible... it's in competition," she added later. "It's going to take the place of the virus that is currently circulating."
VACCINES OFFERED TO THOSE 70 AND UP, IF THEY HELP OLDER PATIENTS
Montreal officials are also feeling hopeful about the progress of the vaccination campaign, they said, and they announced a twist to the rules announced earlier this week, offering vaccines to a much bigger group right off the bat.
Next week, Montreal will receive 75,000 doses of the vaccine, said Sonia Belanger, the director of the south-central health authority in the city.
That single week will allow the city to get close to doubling its vaccination numbers. So far, 94,000 people in total in Montreal have been vaccinated, between elderly care home residents and health-care workers.
Shots will now be available to those 85 and over, but there's another new rule meant to facilitate access for these elderly patients, said Belanger.
Others may help and accompany them in organizing and going to get the shots, and if they do so, these helpers will also be able to get a shot at the same time, she said, as long as they're over 70.
"You can accompany them on the phone if needed, or you can even come with them to the vaccination centre," she said.
The city is encouraging all people to help those over 85 with the logistics, asking everyone to check in with parents, neighbours and friends to see if they could use help navigating the vaccine system. But many of those helpers won't be eligible yet to get their shots as they're too young.
There will also be some "volunteer teams" available to help elderly people get to their appointments.
It's crucial to make an appointment before getting a shot, Belanger said. Appointments can be booked by phone or online starting Thursday.
"We cannot just show up in a vaccination centre if we do not have an appointment," she said.
To book an appointment online, the website is www.quebec.ca/vaccineCOVID.
To do it by phone, people can call 1-877-644-4545. The phone line will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, and from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends.
Vaccines are free and they are available to people without Quebec health cards, though if you do have a card, bring it to the appointment, authorities said.
There have been 15 vaccination sites announced so far in Montreal, and the booking process allows the person to choose the one closest to home, based on their postal codes, or to pick another site.
The bigger process looks to move quickly right now, as there are more vaccines arriving next week than there are in the core priority group. There are only about 40,000 to 43,000 Montrealers over 85, said authorities. That means they'll only use up about 57 per cent of the vaccines available.
As soon as it's clear there's extra left over and the priority group has gotten their first shots, the vaccines will be opened up to the next priority group in line.
POSTPONED SURGERIES RESTARTING
Montreal hospitals are also beginning the process of rescheduling some surgeries that were postponed when COVID-19 numbers soared earlier this winter.
"We are also getting back the staff that were sent to different COVID units so they can get back to their operating units," said Belanger.
There's been enough of a decrease in COVID hospitalizations to allow this long process to restart, and the "phones will start ringing" in the next few days for some of the people awaiting surgery -- a group that's now 45,000 strong in Montreal alone.
The current goal is to get operating rooms up to 75 per cent of their normal capacity, Belanger said.