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MONTREAL -- Quebec community groups have been calling on Quebec to collect race-based data on COVID-19 patients, and on Wednesday the province indicated it would do so.
Horacio Arruda, Quebec's national director of public health, told reporters Wednesday that the province does indeed intend to compile such data.
"Yes, this information will be collected," Arruda said at the province's daily COVID-19 briefing in Quebec City, noting that the data could be useful "especially if there (are) risk factors from certain communities that could be related to genetics."
Arruda did not provide specific details, but told reporters he would look into which demographic details the province will collect.
Groups such as the Montreal-based Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), have said data that includes factors such as the race and economic status of COVID-19 patients is essential to understand the spread of the virus, particularly in poorer and more ethnically diverse boroughs such as Montreal North, which has become the hardest-hit in the city in recent weeks.
“This is a most encouraging development for public health in Montreal and in Quebec," CRARR executive director Fo Niemi said Wednesday. "Collecting data based on these factors will certainly allow policy makers, health services providers and workers and the communities concerned about the disproportionate adverse impact of COVID-19 access to reliable data to assess needs and develop better adapted care, support and prevention programs.
“This data will be part of the science we need to fight COVID-19.”
CRARR last week had issued a public call, backed by several academics, politicians and other activists, for more detailed data on COVID-19 patients.
“We are concerned about the high rate of infection in these areas, but existing data only focus on age and gender," Niemi said last week. "There are no indicators based on race, language and income status to allow for more accurate measurements of COVID-19 infection and death in a city as diverse as Montreal."
Toronto began collecting race-based data in April, and Niemi noted that the collection of such data also already takes place in the United States and United Kingdom. Ontario's chief medical officer Dr. David Williams said Wednesday his province will soon start collecting race-based and socio-economic data too.
Quebec Deputy Premier Genevieve Guilbault - filling on Wednesday for Premier Francois Legault - announced that the province will be spending an additional $31 million to help Quebecers with their mental health during the pandemic.
The extra money will go toward ramping up services offered by the Info-Social 811 help line, providing greater access to psycho-social and mental health services in a timelier manner to anyone who needs it, and recruiting private psychologists and therapists to offer social and psychological counselling, Health Minister Danielle McCann specified.
"With the pandemic, we are very concerned about our physical health, but it must not be done at the expense of our mental health," Guilbault said. "I want to take this opportunity to tell people who live with mental health problems not to hesitate to consult. You don't have to choose between virus and distress. We have to tackle both at the same time."
REASSURING OVER-60 TEACHERS AND EDUCATORS
Guilbault also sought to reassure people between the ages of 60 and 69 years that it is safe to return to work in daycares and schools when they reopen next week.
Premier Francois Legault and other provincial authorities had previously warned people over the age of 60 that they were at greater risk of complications from COVID-19.
But Guilbault said Wednesday that public health authorities now advise it is people over 70 years old who are at greater risk of complications from the novel coronavirus.
Provincial statistics indicate that 8 per cent of people who have died from COVID-19 in the province were aged between 50-69 years.
Guilbault says she knows there are older teachers and daycare workers across the province worried about returning to work but says they will be safe if they and their students follow health directives.
SOME INMATES TO BE RELEASED FOR MEDICAL REASONS
Guilbault said some prisoners in Quebec jails - some of which have seen outbreaks of COVID-19 among inmates and staff - may be released for medical reasons.
She said inmates who receive permission for a release on medical grounds, who have not committed a violent crime, and who have fewer than 30 days left on their jail terms will be released from provincial prisons.
"It should be noted that such permission for medical reasons already exists in our system, a measure which is also applied in other provinces in Canada," Guilbault said. "It will reduce the number of inmates and it will therefore help our correctional officers apply the rules of physical distancing."
"We have a duty to protect our correctional officers and inmates," Guilbault added.
DAILY COVID-19 NUMBERS
There are now 2,510 people who have died of COVID-19 in Quebec, health authorities announced Wednesday, as confirmed cases in the province reached 34,327.
That’s up 112 from the 2,398 deaths reported Tuesday; COVID-19 cases in Quebec rose 910 from the 33,417 announced a day earlier.
There are 1.840 people being treated for COVID-19 in Quebec hospitals as of Wednesday, up 19 from the 1,821 reported Tuesday. Of those in a hospital, 213 are in intensive care, down five from the 218 reported 24 hours earlier.
There are 1,240 people waiting for COVID-19 test results in Quebec as of Wednesday, up 526 from the 714 reported Tuesday.
The number of people in Quebec who have recovered from COVID-19 as of Wednesday was 8,284, up 361 from the 7,923 recoveries reported a day earlier.
With 17,442 cases, Montreal remains the region of the province hardest hit by COVID-19; you can see a regional breakdown of COVID-19 in Quebec here.
- The Canadian Press contributed to this report.