By Gordon Lambie
Even if the region’s performance over the last six to seven weeks has shown continuous improvement in almost all areas related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Regional Public Health Director Dr. Alain Poirier says that it is still too early to say when exactly the Eastern Townships can expect to be downgraded from its current orange alert status to the yellow level that, among other changes, would once again allow for private gatherings.
“Things can change very quickly,” Poirier said, pointing to areas like the Saguenay and Outaouais as examples of places that were doing better than the Townships when this region was still in red, but have now taken a turn for the worse. Although the tendency is to attribute these increases to the rise of new variants, he noted that his is not the case in the Saguenay region and argued that people should be prioritizing following the current healthcare directives. “Careful remains the key word, he said.
Based on current information, Poirier said there is room to speculate that restrictions might be loosened again after the Easter weekend, but he said for the moment, no one in the public health department is in a hurry for that to happen.
“Yellow would involve a lot of changes,” he said. “We hope it will come, but we are not there yet.”
On the matter of the local vaccination campaign, local coordinator Jean Delisle said that at the moment all of the appointments available have been booked, with more than 85,000 people having reserved a spot and more than 42,000 having already received their first dose.
“We are not yet authorized by the Ministry to open more spots,” Delisle said, explaining that appointments are based on the availability of vaccine doses, which are being divided up between regions by the Health Ministry based on the situation in each area.
Although he acknowledged that having appointments pushed to May at this point is unfortunate, the campaign coordinator did highlight it as a good sign that there is a strong interest in getting the vaccine here in the region.
Despite the delays for people signing up for new appointments, Delisle did highlight the fact that all nine vaccination sites across the territory are now up and running. In the Memphremagog area he said that anyone who had made an appointment for the old Saint-Jean Bosco church site will have their time honoured at the new Galeries d’Orford site.
The Eastern Townships reported 12 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total number of people who have been infected in the region to 11,880, with 113 active cases. There were no new deaths reported, and the number of hospitalizations decreased by three, to nine. The number of people in intensive care remained unchanged at three.
The Province of Quebec, meanwhile, reported 783 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total number of people infected to 304,490, with 6,918 active cases. Another eight new deaths were added to the provincial total, bringing that number to 10,626 since the start of the pandemic.
The number of hospitalizations across Quebec dropped by 11 to 508, while the number of people in intensive care increased by five to 118.
The information available on vaccination in the province became much more detailed on Wednesday. Another 31,025 doses of vaccine were administered from Tuesday through Wednesday morning, for a total of 1,024,713 out of the 1,321,795 doses received in total.
Another 58,500 Moderna doses, and 271,440 Pfizer doses will be added to the total this week.
In the Townships a more detailed report on the state of vaccination coverage revealed that 8.6 per cent of the local population has received at least one dose of vaccine to date, compared to more that 12 per cent provincewide. The highest percentage of vaccine coverage at this point is in Sherbrooke, where 10.8 per cent of the population has been given the shot, while the lowest is in the Granit region, with 6.6 per cent. Coverage within local long term care homes is at 86.9 per cent, while private seniors’ residences are at 83.4 per cent.
The number of confirmed variant cases in the province remained unchanged, while the number of presumptive variant cases increased from 3,423 to 3,664. Only 47 of those presumptive cases have been in the Eastern Townships, despite the fact that Poirier said about 20 per cent of all cases detected in the region are now variant strains.
“We treat all cases as if they were variants,” the Public Health Director said, stressing the importance of containing the spread of more contagious forms of the virus.