Quebec officially enters sixth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic
With mounting COVID-19 cases in recent days and another rise in hospitalizations, Quebec's public health institute has declared a sixth wave of the pandemic.
Dr. Gaston De Serres, an epidemiologist practitioner at the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ), made it official to several media outlets on Wednesday, the same day Quebec recorded 47 more hospitalizations and a daily increase of more than 3,000 people testing positive.
The declaration was expected as public health experts have been saying for days that the province was in the midst of the latest wave amid a surge of cases and hospitalizations, as well as a rising positivity rate, driven by the highly contagious BA.2 variant. It's now the dominant variant in Quebec.
Though the daily increase in cases is of some concern — since the number is likely much higher given the fact PCR testing in the province has been restricted to certain priority groups of people since January 2022 — public health experts say Quebecers are much more protected from the virus now than in previous waves. With high vaccination rates among most age groups and several cases of prior infection in the last few months, they say Quebec should be able to handle the latest wave.
Quebec's health ministry said it is monitoring the situation and recommending "caution" for the public, adding in a tweet that, "No new health measures are being considered."
The provincial health-care research institute, Institut national d'excellence en santé et en services sociaux (INESSS), said Wednesday that hospitalizations are up by 18 per cent from last week after 527 people were admitted to hospital due to the virus, compared to 447 from the week before.
Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease specialist at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital, said Quebec is wading through this new wave with limited data because of the lack of warning indicators that the province had in previous chapters of the pandemic, which can be a problem. He points to the limited access to PCR testing and the elimination of wastewater testing for the virus as examples.
Quebec scrapped its wastewater testing program in December 2021 but the health ministry said it plans to resume it at an unspecified date.
"What is the danger of driving down the highway if you can't see through your windshield? You don't really know where you're going. Honestly, to me, right now, the indicators that we have that are telling us at least something are, unfortunately, the very late indicators," he told CTV News Wednesday just before the sixth wave was officially declared.
"We're counting the number of people who are admitted to hospital with a diagnosis of COVID-19. We're looking at the number of people needing an ICU bed. Those are certainly important from the point of view of the burden on the health-care system, but those are the kind of measurements that tell you what was happening in the community from which those cases came perhaps two weeks ago."
NOT THE TIME TO LIFT MASK MANDATE: EXPERT
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health and Social Services officially started administering fourth doses of the vaccine to people living in CHSLDs and private seniors' residences (RPAs). People who are 80 and older and those with compromised immune systems can also book an appointment for their fourth booster shot.
Those who haven't yet booked an appointment for a third dose and are eligible should get their booster shot, Dr. Oughton said, adding that he believes now is not the time to lift existing public health measures.
He said it doesn't make sense to lift the face masking mandate for nearly all public places, which Quebec is scheduled to do about two weeks from now if the province sticks to its reopening schedule.
"Viruses don't read calendars," Dr. Oughton said.
"To me, I think that it would be very advisable to say that right now — unless things suddenly and drastically improve — we should not end the mask mandate. Masks are something that everybody can wear that keeps both themselves and those around them safe."