New variants driving increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations in Québec
With an increase of 143 new cases over the weekend, the total number of COVID-19 cases in the Outaouais since the beginning of the pandemic reached 40,534 on July 4. There were 352 active cases in the region on that date. There have been 319 COVID-19-related deaths in the Outaouais so far. Currently, 56 people are hospitalized, but none are in intensive care. The CISSSO reports that 87 of its employees are currently infected with the virus.
Update on the evolution of the situation in Québec
Following the surge of the COVID-19 virus and its new subvariants, Dr Luc Boileau, Québec’s Public Health national director, provided an update on the situation in the province at a press conference held on June 29.
The update comes following a surge in COVID-related hospitalizations, community transmission, outbreaks, as well as the number of health-care workers off the job due to the virus. Dr Boileau says the increase of COVID-19 cases in Québec is mainly attributable to new Omicron subvariants, namely BA.2.12.1, BA.4 and BA.5. These are significantly more contagious than the original strain and show higher neutralization resistance to antibodies. The new variants represent between 80% and 85% of new cases in Québec. However, it is too early to say that we are entering a seventh wave, although all the elements are there.
Public Health is concerned about the precarious situation in hospitals during the summer months, particularly due to staff vacations. In order to avoid a further increase in hospitalizations, Dr Boileau recommends that the population, especially vulnerable individuals, resume proper protection against illness, especially in public places and crowded areas. People who are immunosuppressed, those with chronic illnesses, and those over the age of 60 are included in this recommendation. "People are encouraged to be cautious and, if they wish, to resume wearing masks." For those planning to gather during the summer, the ideal is to hold gatherings outdoors, maintaining a physical distance from others. However, he assured that for the time being, no new mandatory health measures are planned for the population of Québec. "Even if wearing a mask would help reduce the number of cases, it is not realistic, at this time, to ask people to start wearing masks again during the summer here in Québec," acknowledged Dr Boileau.
People who test positive or have symptoms associated with COVID-19 should self-isolate for five days. After five days, it is safe to go out provided individuals take every measure to avoid contamination, including wearing a mask and avoiding contact with vulnerable people. People with poor health, especially those who are not vaccinated, are at risk of ending up in intensive care. An increase in the number of people admitted to intensive care has been recorded in Québec, and it is estimated that the number of hospitalizations could climb to 1,600 over the next two weeks.
Emergency room occupancy rates in hospitals across the province are a concern, and the Outaouais is no exception. On July 4, the occupancy rate at the Hull hospital was 148% and at the Gatineau hospital, 114%.
The vaccine is still very effective in preventing complications related to the virus, especially hospitalizations, even in the context of new variants. Therefore, it is recommended that everyone, especially those at higher risk, get a second booster dose, if at least three months have passed after an infection or the previous dose.
Rapid tests are still available free of charge in pharmacies.
The Québec government asks people who take a rapid test to go to Quebec.ca/testcovid-19 to report their results, whether positive or negative.
For the general population, a new vaccination campaign is planned for the fall, with new vaccines designed to fight against variants. Dr Boileau said that the situation is being closely monitored and, if necessary, a further update will be provided on the evolution of the situation.