For the Chateauguay Valley, not much has changed in terms of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in recent weeks. While numbers continue to rise in neighbouring MRCs, the official tally has remained stable at under 30 locally. The area is also fortunate that no CHSLD or long-term care facility has been affected by the virus, while the cases surrounding the Valley are largely confined to seniors’ residences and health care workers.
“Still, it’s getting closer and closer,” says Dr. Catherine Bélanger, the COVID-19 coordinator for the Haut-Saint-Laurent local health network, who suggests that while the virus itself may not be as present in the area, it is still putting pressure on our health care system and its employees. “Our area might be impacted if our medical resources are affected elsewhere,” she says, noting that she and some of the other younger doctors working at the Barrie Memorial Hospital have been working in CHSLDs in neighbouring regions that are dealing with outbreaks.
“We are closely watching what is happening all around us,” says Bélanger, adding that while the numbers have remained quite stable, “a lot can change before the end of the month.” This is especially true with the reopening of schools and different sectors of the economy. And, she points out, it will take some time before numbers begin to jump if the decision to reopen outside the greater Montreal area was premature.
Another concern is the speed at which the virus seems to be able to spread in the event of an outbreak. “It is so contagious,” says Bélanger, bringing up the horrifying case of a CHSLD in Mont-Royal where 100 per cent of residents were infected with the virus and almost all of the staff as well. She also referenced how quickly things have spun out of control in Montreal, with public health authorities and the government officially announcing schools would not reopen until the fall.
The evolution of the pandemic is also a challenge. “I don’t think we know everything about this virus,” she admits, as various studies from around the world are starting to reveal the many different ways in which COVID-19 seems to affect its carriers, from young children to the elderly.
Distance and hygiene still key
Bélanger feels the chances that the virus is circulating in the community in the Valley are probably low, but because the public health authority has only just changed the protocol to allow for non-essential workers in the general public to also be tested, it is impossible to say with any accuracy. “People have been following the rules and being in a rural area has helped,” she says, but with deconfinement, it is more important than ever to stay vigilant. She still highly recommends social distancing of a minimum of two metres, washing hands regularly, limiting the number of outings to as few as possible, and wearing a mask in public. “If you have a mask, why not wear it,” she says, adding she has recently started to wear one, and that the practice makes sense for protecting others.
Masks to become more common
In a video posted online, Dr. Julie Loslier, the director of the Direction de Santé Publique de la Montérégie, encouraged residents who experience symptoms consistent with COVID-19 to call 811 or 1-877-644-4545 to make an appointment to be tested. The new testing protocol set out by the government aims to test up to 14,000 individuals per day for the virus, focusing on members of the general public experiencing symptoms. “We want to increase the number of tests being done in the community,” she says, suggesting the public health authority is increasingly interested in knowing how the virus is being spread outside the healthcare system.
Loslier also remarked that within the Montérégie region the wearing of masks and social distancing when in public are not always respected. “The more we wear face coverings in these instances, the less awkward it will become to wear them,” she says.