Public health authorities in Montreal are increasingly optimistic about keeping COVID-19 hospitalizations in check this fall as vaccination numbers continue to advance.
More than 87 per cent of Montreal adults have been fully vaccinated, and up to 3,000 new people are getting the jab every day, Montreal public health director Dr. Mylène Drouin said Friday. When factoring in children aged five to 11, the proportion of vaccinated Montrealers drops to 76 per cent.
“I’m relatively hopeful, with the start of the vaccination for five- to 11-year-olds, that we can arrive at a collective immunity and vaccination rates of close to 90 per cent,” Drouin said during an event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal. “At that point we’ll need to work very hard not to import new variants, but inside our small Quebec bubble we can still be protected.”
COVID-19 cases remain relatively under control despite the back-to-school period, Drouin said.
“We are very encouraged by what we are seeing in the fourth wave,” she said. “For the past two weeks, we have seen a drop both in positivity rates and cases, despite the fact there are some outbreaks in places with populations of under-11s, such as schools and daycares.”
A low number of outbreaks in downtown Montreal also shows that workplaces are safe and that the vaccination campaign is bearing fruit, according to Drouin.
There are 12 active outbreaks in Montreal workplaces, representing 69 cases, Drouin said. Montreal has about 60,000 workplaces.
“This is extremely low, and much less than what we had during the other peaks of the pandemic,” she said. “Globally, we can say that the measures that are in effect in the workplace are allowing us to control the transmission. Workplaces are not the driver of community transmission. These places are safe.”
Quebec’s decision to postpone a mass return of employees to the office, which was initially recommended to take place right after Labour Day, “clearly helped us to control this fourth wave and to help us adjust our control measures,” Drouin said.
Most outbreaks in Montreal currently involve fewer than 10 cases, and sometimes just a handful, Drouin said. That’s down from an average of 12 to 15 cases per outbreak this past spring.
“The vaccine is very useful,” she said. “It reduces the risk of being infected, but it’s not perfect. It’s especially useful to reduce complications linked to the illness and hospitalizations.”
At some point, Drouin added, “the virus will hit a wall and won’t be able to generate large-scale outbreaks.”
From a mental health perspective, Montreal has been hit harder than other Quebec regions by the pandemic. A February poll found that one Montrealer out of three suffered from anxiety or symptoms of depression, compared with one out of five for all of Quebec.
Mental health remains an issue. Fifty-two per cent of respondents in a recent poll said they’re anxious about returning to the workplace, according to a slide presentation that accompanied Drouin’s remarks. For those aged 18 to 24, the proportion jumped to 68 per cent.
Returning to the workplace is a “re-adaptation process” that should take place gradually, Drouin said.
“Some people are really looking forward to reconnecting with their colleagues. Others see it as upsetting the family habits they developed during the pandemic. So these are things we’ll have to deal with to make sure people see added value in sitting in an office.”