Quebecers should go back to working from home as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations rise: health minister
Quebec’s health minister is recommending people return to working from home as the province is seeing a pre-holiday spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
The province also plans to widely distribute free rapid tests across nearly 2,000 drug stores starting next week.
The teleworking advice from the provincial government is in effect "until further notice," said Minister Christian Dubé Tuesday during a news conference alongside the province’s public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, and the head of the vaccine roll-out program, Daniel Paré.
On Tuesday, Quebec reported hospital cases jumped by 25 in the last 24 hours and 1,747 more people have tested positive.
The province also announced face masks will be again required in common areas of RPAs (private seniors’ residences).
The new measures come as public health is trying to curb the spread of the new Omicron variant that the health minister said appears to be two to three times more contagious than the Delta variant.
Quebec's Institute of Public Health (INSPQ) is now reporting 11 cases of the Omicron variant in the province, up from five on Dec. 9.
"For the moment we would still have a limited number [of Omicron cases] in Quebec, but the real situation is probably underestimated," Dubé said.
The impact on the health-care network, he said, would be “very serious” if unvaccinated people contract the Omicron variant, as health experts are still trying to better understand its impact on the body and its response to the vaccines currently available.
Data from the province suggests unvaccinated people are still overrepresented in COVID-19 cases in the past month.
In the last 30 days, Dubé said roughly 30,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Quebec and more than half of them were unvaccinated people, even though the unvaccinated only make up about 10 per cent of the population. Unvaccinated people also make up about 65 per cent of the people in intensive care, which was at 75 on Tuesday.
"There is still a big impact of the unvaccinated right now," the health minister said.
FREE RAPID TESTS FOR THE HOLIDAYS
As families prepare to gather for the holidays, the province said it will also start on Monday to widely distribute free rapid tests to 1,900 pharmacies across Quebec. Five tests per person will be made available within a 30-day period, depending on the supply from the federal government. The tests will also be sent to RPAs.
Around 10 million rapid tests are expected to arrive in the province, Dubé said.
The tests will be free until March 31 and the province said it will roll them out to give people some peace of mind, especially if they plan to attend family gatherings and if they have symptoms.
The wide roll-out of the tests will be part of the government's strategy going forward "in order to live with COVID," Dubé said.
Citing the increase of coronavirus cases in recent weeks, the province is hoping to accelerate its roll-out of booster doses to eligible people, but in order to do that, Dubé said 500 more workers are needed to administer them.
"So if you are available, please come and help us as you have been doing in the last year," Dubé pleaded to Quebecers.
Currently, people aged 70 and over, as well as designated groups of people are eligible for a third shot of the vaccine. This list includes pregnant women, people on dialysis, people with weakened immune systems, those living in CHSLDs, and others. The province expects to expand booster eligibility to people 60 and over in January.
Despite recently doubling the gathering limit in people’s homes to 20 people as of Dec. 23, Dubé urged people to still keep holiday gatherings small and limited to vaccinated guests.
"For now, there is no change" on the gathering limit, he said, but made it clear the government is leaving the door open to implementing stricter gathering limits if the data supports it.
"We want people to think that, especially for vaccinated people that have done a lot of sacrifices over the last two years, that they can have this party if they are prudent," he said.