MONTREAL -- Quebec's hard-hit Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region will be among the first parts of the province to receive rapid COVID-19 tests, health officials announced Friday.

The tests will be deployed in mid-December to the region north of Quebec City that reported another 146 infections on Friday after reporting 1,190 cases last week. Saguenay has 426.1 active COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, the highest rate in Quebec.

Public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda said he is sending two doctors from his agency to the region to help with epidemiological investigations and to manage the outbreaks.

Arruda admitted that the distribution of rapid tests in the province has been delayed. He said the government waited for advice from experts and clinicians regarding how best to use the tests. Rapid tests are less reliable, he said, and could give false negatives for asymptomatic people.

"Now we're ready to start the operation," Arruda told reporters. "We didn't want to find ourselves in a situation where we were using a test that wasn't at the right place, at the right time, for the right people."

Arruda travelled to the Saguenay region Friday, urging residents to make an effort to get the community transmission under control and to help the region's overtaxed health system.

"It's a virus that feeds on our contacts," Arruda said. "Each effort to diminish contacts will reduce the number of cases."


Also Friday, the Education Department asked school service centres to conduct air-quality tests in classrooms beginning Dec. 1.

Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said in a statement the carbon dioxide tests will alert officials to the work that needs to be conducted over the holiday break.

Among other numbers, health officials said Friday that hospitalizations decreased by six, to 669, and 90 people were in intensive care, the same number as the prior day.

A government-funded health institute said in its latest weekly projections that dedicated COVID-19 hospital capacity in the Montreal area should not be surpassed in the next four weeks.

But the projections, based on data collected between Nov. 16 and Nov. 22, also indicated that in some regions, the situation is more fragile as patients with COVID-19 occupied almost half of the dedicated COVID-19 beds.

The Institut national d'excellence en sante et en services sociaux also said hospitalizations are increasing across the province because infections are on the rise among people aged 70 years old and older.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2020.