The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Chateauguay Valley appeared to make a significant jump this past week, with cases seemingly popping up overnight in Huntingdon and Franklin, which now count at least 14 cases each. Figures released on May 29 also show five cases or more in Ormstown, Saint-Chrysostome, Howick and Hemmingford. As of May 31, a total of 62 confirmed cases had been recorded in the Haut-Saint-Laurent local health network (LHN). The sudden increase has helped fuel controversies in the area over the opening of campgrounds and the cancellation of some municipal day camps, while stoking an existing malaise among residents already leery over the pace of deconfinement so close to Greater Montreal hot zones.
Dr. Catherine Bélanger, the COVID-19 coordinator for the Haut-Saint-Laurent LHN, suggests that an increase in cases was to be expected. “It goes with an increase in testing and it also goes with deconfinement,” she says. A clarification issued by the Direction de Santé Publique de la Montérégie on Friday also confirmed that cases in the region had been on a rapid increase but chalked this up to a delay in its case compilation system. According to the regional public health authority, “the number of new cases has been fairly stable over the past week.” The backlog in the system has not impacted the organization’s ability to track individuals who test positive for COVID-19 and their contacts who may be at an increased risk of developing the disease.
CHSLDs still COVID-free
Bélanger was quick to point out that despite the jump in local cases, there have still been no positive test results in any of the long-term care residences, or CHSLDs, located in the Haut-Saint-Laurent. “But we are keeping a close, close eye on this,” she adds, noting that she and her colleagues are actively organizing medical resources to limit the risk that any local health care employees working on the front lines outside the region might transmit the virus to patients. For example, the doctors who have been in contact with COVID-positive patients are no longer seeing vulnerable patients in their local practice. As another precaution, the doctors are also no longer going into the CHSLDs. Local nurse practitioners are now being asked to treat patients in residences when necessary.
Bélanger confirms that due to the province-wide shortage in health care workers, some nurses and orderlies are working in confirmed coronavirus hot zones outside the region and then returning to their regular positions in the area. This practice is being very closely monitored, and, she says, “we have very good people in our CHSLDs.” Employees in local CHSLDs and seniors’ residences were also tested for the virus this past week, whether symptomatic or not.
The local doctors will also be keeping a close eye on campgrounds this coming week as they reopen across the province. “Anytime you have a lot of people close together you can have transmission, and we don’t know where [the campers] are coming from,” Bélanger says, acknowledging the hospital might be in for a busy summer.
At the same time, she says, “It is the role of the community to really educate our guests on how to stay safe, Valley-style. People have been doing a good job so far,” she stresses, regarding local practices when it comes to social distancing and hygiene.
“I also don’t want us to focus on only on campgrounds because deconfinement is underway,” Bélanger warns. “With deconfinement comes an increase in transmission in general. With an increase in risk comes an obligation to increase surveillance. So, my message is to stay watchful and stay careful.”
Workers in need of relief
The precariousness of the health care system is another reason to continue being vigilant. When asked about the morale of the local health care system, Dr. Bélanger admits she has been outside of the Barrie Memorial for the past few weeks. “I think people have been giving all that they have,” she says. “I’ve been on the front line. Everywhere I go they are tired, they are frustrated, and there is a little bit of fear. Overwork is becoming an issue.”
One good thing that has resulted from the pandemic is that “everyone has pulled together as a team,” Bélanger says. Another piece of good news is that despite the pandemic, younger doctors have continued to be recruited into a local practice, including two new doctors currently working in Huntingdon. Plans for the new medical centre in Ormstown are also still on track, despite construction delays caused by the pandemic. “We are moving forward as planned,” Bélanger confirms.