Health officials urge caution as study points to virus peak last March

By Gordon Lambie

Although the Estrie region was one of the hardest hit in the province during the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic, new research carried out by the CIUSSS de l’Estrie – CHUS, the Eastern Townships’ regional healthcare establishment, reveals that the local curve peaked at the end of March and that less than two in 1,000 people, or 0.2 per cent of the people in the region caught the virus over the months of March and April.
The research presented on Monday morning by regional public health director Dr. Alain Poirier and consulting physician Dr Mélissa Généreux only covers the period up to May 5 of this year, at which point there had been 872 confirmed cases in the region. Since that time, the number has increased by less than 100 cases to 944, although 904 of those have recovered and 25 have died. Of the 872 relevant to the study, 101 were hospitalized at one point or another.
One key aspect of what the research discovered is that the virus is a very different kind of threat depending on who got sick. Although people 18 to 49 years of age were the group that had the most confirmed cases, for example, the group for whom that infection went on to become a serious infection were largely 70 years of age or older. As well, those who had a pre-existing chronic medical condition such as diabetes, a respiratory condition (such as asthma), Immunosuppression, or heart disease were three times more likely to end up hospitalized as a result of a coronavirus infection.
Although there are now only a very small number of active cases in the region, the two doctors encouraged people not to let their guard down too much.
“It snowballs quickly,” Dr Généreux said, pointing out that part of what led to the region’s early jump in cases is the delay between the time the first local case started to experience symptoms on February 24 and the virus’ confirmation in a laboratory on March 10. “It only takes one contagious case who is not being careful to get a new wave started.”
“We know that the virus moves very easily through a population without immunity,” Dr. Poirier added, sharing that although it is difficult to say with certainty which measures were the most effective in reducing the spread, what can be said for certain is that they did work.
That in mind the public health specialists encouraged the population to keep caution in mind, even as restrictions on public gathering loosen up.
Some of the other information shared from the research includes the fact that 93 per cent of those who contracted the virus experienced at least one of four symptoms; cough, fever, loss of taste and smell, and other respiratory troubles with cough being the most common. Other symptoms were observed, however, including generalized weakness, headaches, chills (without fever), aches and pains, nasal congestion or runny nose, sore throat, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, and irritability or confusion. On average people with confirmed cases experienced six of these symptoms
Dr Généreux shared that infections were largely passed along within family groups or other areas of prolonged contact between people, with workplaces and travel being the runners up. Dr. Poirier said that a slightly higher number of women were infected in the region, something he attributed to the fact that there are a large number of healthcare workers, who tend to be women, in the region.
Although the Haute Yamaska and Sherbrooke Local service networks saw the highest numbers of cases over the period of the study, the rate of infection per 100,000 people was actually significantly higher in the Des Sources area, which includes the communities of Danville and Asbestos. That region also had the highest hospitalization rate.
“This research is very important because if we looked at this purely based on the number of cases, the information is very different than if we look at the reasons behind those numbers,” Poirier said, noting that the research will be useful for future planning.

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