With 6,361 new COVID-19 cases, Quebec more than doubles its pre-Omicron record
Quebec reported 6,361 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, smashing the previous day's count -- the province's record to date -- by more than 1,000 cases.
Before the Omicron variant hit the province, the daily record, from last January, was under 3,000.
Deaths rose by two, and hospitalizations by 30, while the number of people in intensive care remained stable.
Sources had warned Quebec media ahead of Wednesday's numbers that they would rise to at least 6,000. At 6 p.m., Premier François Legault and health authorities held a news conference outlining their plan for the next stage of the pandemic, including new restrictions on gatherings as of Dec. 26.
Quebec marked another milestone on Wednesday, as well: it has officially had more than half a million confirmed infections over the course of the pandemic, which means about 6.25 per cent of Quebecers have caught the virus, or one in 16.
However, the province's public health institute also warned earlier this week that with the introduction of widespread rapid tests, the official case count will no longer be reliable -- it will be an undercount, since many infections confirmed at home will likely never be reported to authorities.
POSITIVITY RATE 13 PER CENT, A NEW RECORD
Added to that, testing capacity in much of Quebec has hit its limit, making it very difficult to get a PCR test -- some Montreal testing sites had no availability for 10 days on Tuesday. Contact tracing is also no longer possible the way it was in earlier waves.
Quebec's test positivity rate, an important indicator of how much the virus is circulating, rose to 13.1 per cent on Wednesday, a three-point jump from Tuesday's number.
It's also a new record: the highest positivity rate Quebec had previously seen was 11.2 per cent, recorded on Dec. 27, 2020.
The current 13.1 per cent rate means that of the people who manage to get a PCR test right now, nearly one in eight are getting a positive result.
In earlier waves, health authorities have seen five per cent positivity as the threshold showing a certain area is reaching a crisis point.
There are currently 34,161 known active cases across Quebec. While the province has only officially confirmed or presumed 2,461 of those cases as being the Omicron variant, public health expert said Tuesday that their bigger surveillance system leads them to believe that 80 per cent of the province's cases are now Omicron.
About 37 per cent of Quebec's current outbreaks are linked to schools and preschools, another 11.5 per cent are linked to daycares, and 33 per cent are linked to workplaces.
HOSPITAL TURNOVER HIGH
The 30-person net increase in hospitalizations is roughly in line with increases over the past few days. But it comes after 76 people were admitted to hospital in the last 24 hours and 46 were discharged -- turnover numbers that have been steadily growing.
The increase of zero in the ICU comes after 12 new admittances and 12 people no longer receiving care, relatively high numbers for this wave so far.
There's currently a total of 445 people in Quebec hospitals for COVID-19 patients. The province has said in recent weeks that it has 800 beds reserved for this group, so it hasn't yet hit capacity, though the situation in Montreal is more dire.
Of those admitted to hospital across the province in the last 24 hours, 42 people were unvaccinated and 32 were vaccinated, meaning the unvaccinated people were far overrepresented, considering how few unvaccinated people there are in Quebec.
The overall risk of being hospitalized is currently 13.1 times higher for the unvaccinated than for the vaccinated in Quebec, according to the last 28 days' worth of provincial statistics.
The vaccination count is rising quickly, with 88,424 doses newly recorded as of Wednesday, up from daily counts generally under 50,000 last week.
Nearly all of those, more than 75,000 shots, were boosters. Ten per cent of the province's population has now gotten a third shot.
Struggling to meet demand for boosters, Quebec authorities have called in the army to help deliver shots, as well as asking qualified health-care workers to come forward through an online platform, Je Contribue.
Children's vaccinations have also continued at a steady pace, with 54 per cent of Quebec kids aged five to 11 now given a first dose.
MORE THAN ONE IN 200 MONTREALERS ACTIVELY INFECTED
The hardest-hit regions of Quebec are currently Chaudiere-Appalaches and the Eastern Townships, both of which have active case rates of over 550 per 100,000 population (Chaudiere-Appalaches' rate is nearly 600).
However, Montreal isn't far behind, with a rate of 515 cases per 100,000, which adds up to far higher numbers overall, with the city's much bigger population than those two rural areas. Montreal currently has 10,521 infections.
The metropolis has shot past regions that had higher rates until recently, including the suburb of Laval, which now has a rate of 403 -- still extremely high compared to most places in the country.
The two regions north of Laval, the Laurentians and Lanaudière, are also struggling with rates around 400.
Montreal is hitting a crisis point ahead of most regions, with a positivity rate of 16.2 per cent in the city, testing sites fully booked and rapid tests very difficult to find.
The city's hospitals are also struggling, with emergency rooms consistently over-capacity and 99 more people admitted with COVID-19 in the last week.
Local hospital leaders reported Tuesday they may need to start cancelling surgeries and clinics.
Within Montreal, two affluent neighbourhoods have the highest rates: the Petite-Patrie/Villeray area, and the Plateau. Both are showing rates approaching 900 active cases per 100,000 people, or almost one in 100 people known to be currently infected.
In Petite-Patrie/Villeray, the rate is 870 per 100,000, while in the Plateau it's 846.
Other hard-hit neighbourhoods include Hochelaga/Rosemont and Verdun/St-Henri/Pointe-St-Charles, both of which show rates of over 600 cases per 100,000.