QUEBEC — Faced with an increase in the transmission of COVID-19 in Quebec, the national director of public health Luc Boileau encourages “people at risk” to “resume wearing a mask”.
During a press conference on Wednesday morning, Dr. Boileau also invited immunosuppressed people, people aged 60 and over, and those who suffer from a chronic illness to obtain a fourth dose of the vaccine against COVID. -19, if you haven’t already.
“We estimate that this rise in cases will continue for a few days or a few weeks”, indicated Luc Boileau, adding that a further drop in transmission should be observed within a few weeks, “so it is possible to take advantage of his summer”, but “being aware that the virus is circulating”.
The province reported four new COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday and there are currently 1,260 hospitalizations, up 34 from Tuesday. Thirty-five patients are in intensive care, one less than the day before.
A rise earlier than expected
This new increase in transmissibility is linked to “the arrival of new variants”, such as “BA2.12.1 BA4 and BA5”, explained the national director of public health who described them as “variants that are more transmissible and which spread more easily”.
“Three quarters of the new cases circulating are cases linked to these types of variant”, indicated Luc Boileau, adding that “this increase was foreseeable, but it arrived more hastily than we thought”.
Dr. Boileau mentioned that it is possible that the number of hospitalizations will reach 1,500 in the coming weeks, but public health does not expect there to be 2,000 or 3,000 hospitalizations as was the case in December or even last April.
“In the scenarios that are before us, there are none where we are going to recommend stronger measures and the wearing of masks in particular for everyone”, specified the national director of public health.
A “perfect storm”
Dr. Don Vinh of the McGill University Health Center says Quebec is facing a “perfect storm” of factors, including the emergence of new variants, reduced immunity induced by vaccination or a infection that is a few months old and the removal of public health restrictions.
The new Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, he said in an interview, appear to be gaining traction and finding vulnerable people to infect, especially as the mutations appear to be better able to evade immunity than previous strains.
“You put the two together, new variants and waning immunity from infection or vaccination or both, and what happens is you have a renewed pool of susceptible people and a variant that emerges,” he said.
The rise in hospitalizations, he added, comes at a time when the healthcare system is least prepared to deal with it.
Hospital workers at “all levels” are overwhelmed, he said, referring to paramedics, emergency room staff, community workers and those providing home care.
COVID-19 is also putting increased pressure on the system by forcing health care workers who are sick to stay home when the health care system needs them most, he said.
A total of 6,285 health care workers are absent for reasons related to COVID-19, such as preventive withdrawal or isolation.
“The network is always ready to respond to anything that happens to it,” said Dr. Boileau, but “there are places where it can be more difficult,” so several hospitals are in the process of redefining “how they can organize their services”, specified the national director of public health who said he was concerned about this situation.
Vaccines still effective
Even in the face of new variants, Luc Boileau recalled “that the vaccine is still very effective in avoiding complications of the disease, in particular hospitalizations or intensive care or death”.
Asked whether unvaccinated people are overrepresented among the 1,260 current hospitalizations, Dr. Boileau indicated “that we have figures which indicate that unvaccinated people are clearly more at risk”.
To those who would question the efficacy of vaccines against newer variants, Dr. Boileau asserted that no serious scientist “is going to question the efficacy of vaccination.”
According to the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec, 8% of people aged 12 and over have not received any dose of the vaccine against COVID-19. Quebecers over the age of 12, who are not vaccinated, represented 17% of people admitted to intensive care in the last 28 days, according to data released Tuesday by the government.
Dr. Jean Longtin, clinical expert in support of the scientific management of the MSSS pandemic, who accompanied Dr. Boileau, explained that Moderna and Pfizer were preparing new vaccines, “which will probably better cover the new variants” and that these vaccines would be ready this fall.
Depending on the epidemiological situation and the quantity of vaccines available, Public Health will then determine “who will need these new vaccines”, indicated Jean Longtin.