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Cases climbing as Omicron wave washes over the Valley

The province has seen a shaky start to 2022.

In the past week, Quebec has set daily records for the number of patients hospitalized and admitted to intensive care units, and the pressure on the health care system is now at its highest point since the start of the pandemic. And while official daily COVID-19 case counts have started to come down, they are still wildly above anything seen previously, and this is without factoring in the results from rapid tests taken at home.

Here in the Valley, we are proving to be less immune to the spread of the virus than in previous waves with cases mounting daily. As of press time, there were 184 active cases reported (counting only PCR tests) in the Haut-Saint-Laurent local health network. According to the Direction de santé publique de la Montérégie (DSPM), only Dundee and Elgin have zero reported cases. The Suroît LHN reported 824, while the Vaudreuil-Soulanges LHN recorded 1,841 positive results. The Jardins-Roussillon LHN reported 2,543 cases. The infection rate in the Montérégie is hovering around 965 positive cases per 100,000 individuals, with the Haut-Saint-Laurent reporting 734 per 100,000.

Strict measures in place

Due to access to PCR testing being restricted to priority groups, government officials have acknowledged the numbers as presented are likely to be an underrepresentation of the virus’ spread. In an attempt to slow the extremely infectious Omicron variant and the growing number of admissions to hospitals, the government continues to maintain strict public health measures, including a curfew imposed on Jan. 30, restricted access by visitors to hospitals, long-term cares residences and CHSLDs, a ban on indoor private gatherings, the closing of restaurant dining rooms, bars, and many non-essential activities taking place indoors, and a mandatory work-from-home order. The government has also ordered that most other non-essential businesses that are currently allowed to be open must close on Sundays until at least Jan. 16, in order to provide a day of rest for overwhelmed business owners and employees dealing with staff shortages.

The rise in the number of cases and the direct impact on an already worrisome labour shortage saw the government reduce the number of isolation days after a positive result from ten to five for all Quebecers, with similar reductions in isolation requirements across the country. Essential health care workers may be called back to work in under five days if they are asymptomatic and able to work. The Journal Saint-François reported last week that over 470 employees with the Montérégie-West Integrated Health and Social Services Centre (CISSSMO) were on temporary leave. At least 11 employees were called in despite having tested positive. Overall, the province is short around 20,000 healthcare workers due to COVID-19.

Pressure mounting on unvaccinated

The government also moved to boost the pressure on those who refuse to be vaccinated, announcing that as of Jan. 18, the vaccine passport will be required to enter Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) stores and Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC) outlets. Health Minister Christian Dubé has also promised that the list of businesses requiring the passport will grow in the coming days.

The DSPM is currently reporting that 73.5 per cent of the total population in the Haut-Saint-Laurent has at least two doses of the vaccine. All age categories over 18 are now above 70 per cent double-vaccinated, except those between 30-39 years old (68.5 per cent). Province-wide, the vaccination rate for two doses has reached 89.6 per cent, with over 22 per cent having received a third shot. Just under 54 per cent of children aged 5 to 11 in the Haut-Saint-Laurent have received a first dose, representing the lowest rate in the Montérégie. A vaccination campaign for the second dose is expected to be launched for early February.

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