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COVID-19: CHCH outbreak contained; adapting to life in the red zone

The coronavirus outbreak at the Huntingdon Residential and Long-term Care Centre is now under control, says Dr. Catherine Bélanger, the COVID-19 coordinator for the Haut-Saint-Laurent local health network (LHN).

A total of 13 cases were diagnosed among residents at the centre (known by its French acronym as the CHCH), and around five employees also tested positive for the virus, but these numbers “have not budged for almost two weeks,” Bélanger confirms. “We acted quickly and well,” she adds. “I think we have succeeded in containing it. A lot of the cases are now cured and are doing well.”

Bélanger is quick to praise the work of the entire team at the care centre, and is especially grateful to the nurses, doctors and additional staff that came from elsewhere to help in containing the spread of the virus. The hope is that they will be able to declare the outbreak over in the near future. Three residents have passed away as a result of COVID-19.

Not just coincidentally, the number of cases in the Haut-Saint-Laurent and especially in Huntingdon and surrounding municipalities jumped recently, with 12 new infections having been diagnosed between Oct. 8 and 14. Dr. Bélanger believes the numbers are related to the outbreak at the Huntingdon CHCH, and is not overly concerned by the increase in cases or the decision to include the Valley in those regions now at the highest pandemic alert level.

“I think we are a red zone because things are not going well around us,” she says, noting that the number of cases in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Vaudreuil-Soulanges and the Chateauguay area are rising quickly.
The Valley is now well into its first week adapting to the strict restrictions and measures that come with the living in a red zone, including changes at the high school level for local schools, where students and staff will now be expected to wear masks at all times, and Grade 10 will join Grade 11 students in a hybrid learning model. All gatherings, private and public, are now forbidden and most activities outside of work and school, stores and essential services are now closed until the end of the month at a minimum. Restaurants have had to close their dining rooms, but are able to provide takeout and delivery services.

According to Dr. Julie Loslier, the director of the Direction du Santé Publique de la Montérégie, the vast region is now amongst the worst, if not the worst, in terms of the progression of the virus in recent weeks. “It is worrisome,” she admitted during a video posted to Facebook, while suggesting that the number of outbreaks in the Montérégie had almost doubled in the past week. She noted there continue to be outbreaks in schools and workplaces, but increasingly, there are cases being diagnosed in seniors’ residences and long-term care homes, which is also concerning.

In explaining the factors that played into the decision to include the entire Montérégie region in the red zone, Loslier distinguishes between the number of cases and the rate of infection, which is significant in that it expresses the number of cases per 100,000 individuals. By this measurement, a small increase in the number of positive diagnoses in less populated areas can have a large impact on the rate of infection. For example, the Haut-Saint-Laurent currently has significantly fewer cases than either Salaberry-deValleyfield or Vaudreuil-Soulanges, but the rate of infection as of press time was 82.15 per 100,000, which is higher than that of both our urban neighbours, which are currently at 71.05 and 66.25, respectively. Loslier also suggests there were concerns about leaving smaller areas at a lower alert, as they would then be entirely surrounded by a red zone and this could result in an influx of outside visitors. According to the Institut National de Santé Publique du Québec (INSPQ), as of Oct. 18, there were 20 active cases in the Haut-SaintLaurent LHN, 43 in the Suroît LHN, 106 in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges LHN, and 209 in the Jardins-Roussillon LHN, which includes Hemmingford.

For Dr. Bélanger, the most important thing we can continue to do in the Valley to keep the spread of the virus at bay is to follow the government guidelines and restrictions, and especially those concerning visits and gatherings. “Be sure to have a mask, wash your hands, and respect the two metres,” she reiterates, repeating the mantra that has been with us since the first wave.

One important change that is becoming evident with the second wave is that people are not avoiding health services in the same way they were at the start of the pandemic. “The situation is different now. People are going to emergency and the hospitals are overwhelmed,” Bélanger warns. She asks that patients keep the ER clear for true health emergencies by relying on the local clinics for health issues that are less urgent. “Doctors in the clinics can take care of a lot of issues,” reminds Bélanger, noting that even those without a family doctor are still encouraged to call the clinics at this time to receive proper care.

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