Situation in the Eastern Townships stable

By Gordon Lambie

Dr. Alain Poirier, Director of Public Health in the Estrie region, told local media on Wednesday morning that the local “curve” of new COVID-19 cases is stable and has been for several weeks.
“Every day we have fewer and fewer cases,” he said explaining that the local peak of about 50 new cases per day came near the beginning of April, and has been going down since then. As a result the region is now well below others like Montreal and Laval, despite having started out as one of the hot zones in the province.
Although Dr. Poirier convened the technical briefing with reporters to provide updated information on the progression of the virus and the various methods being used to respond to it under changing circumstances, the public health director’s repeated message was that there is a lot about the situation, locally and around the world, that is still being figured out.
Right now, in Quebec, the number of cases is spread fairly evenly across age groups, with every ten year span from 20 years old to 100 representing roughly 10 per cent of the total number, although the case load is higher among 40-60 year olds. Despite this, 97 per cent of the deaths related to the disease are among those 60 and older. By contrast, there have been no deaths of anyone under the age of 30 to date.
“We’re not just talking about toddlers or children under 11,” Dr. Poirier said, pointing out that this age group accounts for more than 2.8 million of the province’s 8.5 million people. “This is excellent news for those under 30, and the main justification for reopening schools.”
Responding to criticism around the announcement earlier this week that Quebec’s elementary schools will be reopening May 11 on an optional basis, the public health director said that the situation is too complex to take a wait-it-out approach to the virus.
“There are activities in society that we cannot simply shut down for two years while we wait to see if we get a vaccine and if the vaccine works,” he said pointing out that although there are currently hundreds of different research projects around the world trying to come the up with a vaccine, the process has really only just begun. Add to that the fact that the virus is already showing itself to be comparable to influenza in terms of its ability to mutate, and you arrive at a logic that says it makes more sense to try to adapt certain parts of society to a new way of thinking and acting.
Dr. Poirier was very clear that the reopening of schools and businesses is not meant to be some sort of massive exposure-therapy experiment. He acknowledged that there will be an increase in cases when the schools and businesses reopen, but also said that working on maintaining the sanitary practices that Quebecers have proven themselves to be good at so far in a less controlled environment is a vital next step.
“The objective is not to let the infection sweep across Quebec,” he said. “If we did that our hospitals would be overwhelmed and many people would die.”
The public health director said that although much has been made of the conversation around so-called “herd immunity,” or the idea of controlling a virus by attaining a high rate of native immunity in a population , the only real low-risk way to achieve such a thing in a short period of time is through a vaccination
“That is a long way off,” he said.
In the mean time, Dr. Poirier said that health professionals and researchers are doing their best to be clear about best practices.
“We are trying to give clear cut rules, but biology is never that clear cut.”
One good example of this is the conversation about the wearing of masks that has taken place over the last month and a half.
Where health professionals originally advised against the wearing of masks based on research that, other than the specialized N95 masks, they are not effective at protecting the individual wearing them.
“At the start I wasn’t sure of the protective effect, but now the logic has changed,” Dr. Poirier said. “Now that we know that there are asymptomatic individuals and areas where it is more easily transmitted than others, and that it is to protect others, it is easier for me to be generous and say yes, I will wear a mask.”
The public health director still said that it is not necessary to wear a mask at all times, but argued that if there are situations where a person is likely to be in closer contact with others like on public transit, it is a good way of helping to protect others. He also underlined the fact that a face covering does not need to be perfect to be effective at reducing the spread of the disease.
Dr. Poirier pointed out that there are a few weeks ahead of everyone in the lead up to the “reopening” of the province, and said that now is the time to be thinking and planning out how best to bring the best-practices of the isolation period into schools and the workplace.
“We have some time to prepare,” he said, pointing to resources being prepared by the CNESST, Quebec’s workplace health and safety board, as well as the INSPQ, the provincial institute of public health, as excellent starting places for those unsure about how to move forward. He also noted that there are a number of recommendations that the government has made over the last several weeks that have been easy to follow while everyone is self-isolating that will become more complicated or questioned as people start to leave the house again. He argued that now is a good time to reflect on which of these need to be firmed up into real directives and which can be relaxed.
“There is a baseline being offered of the two metre distance, handwashing, and coughing into your elbow. The rest should all build on top of that.”
The CIUSSS de l’Estrie – CHUS reported only five new cases for the day as of this writing, with the increases spread in ones and twos across the Haute-Yamaska, La Pommeraie, Memphremagog, and Sherbrooke regions. This brings the regional total to 827. At the same time The provincial public health authority reported a total of26,594 cases across Quebec.

Published in the Thursday, April 30 edition of The Record.

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