COVID-19 in Quebec: 143 new deaths, as province counts some never tested for virus

  • Quebec has 15,857 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Public health now counts recent deaths of people never tested for virus, increasing the death toll to 630.
  • There are 1,018 people in hospital, including 209 in intensive care — nine fewer than Wednesday. Here’s a guide to the numbers.
  • A 44-year-old doctor from the Montérégie region is the first doctor in Quebec to die from COVID-19.
  • The province has extended its declaration of a public health emergency until April 24.
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Ottawa is considering a formal request from Quebec to send in military personnel with medical training to help in long-term care homes.
  • Premier François Legault said 2,000 doctors have responded to his appeal for help in seniors’ homes.
  • Experts say there are risks and benefits to opening schools in Quebec earlier rather than later.
  • Montreal is giving $50,000 loans to 1,000 small businesses in the city.

Quebec saw a big jump in the death toll from COVID-19 overnight, for a total of 630 deaths, as public health authorities have decided to factor in some who have died recently but never tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Among the dead is the first Quebec doctor to fall victim to the pandemic. The 44-year-old from the Monterégie region was not infected on the job, said Quebec’s director of public health, Dr. Horacio Arruda.

Quebec has 15,857 confirmed cases of COVID-19. There are 1,018 people in hospital, including 209 in intensive care — nine fewer than Wednesday.

You can watch Thursday’s briefing from Premier François Legault and health officials here or on CBC Montreal’s Facebook page. 

This is a developing story. Please read our earlier version, below.

Premier François Legault is expected to address his request to the federal government for medical assistance from the Canadian Armed Forces.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier Thursday a formal request to send military personnel with medical training to assist at Quebec’s besieged long-term care homes was made last night to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.

“Right now, we’re looking at this and trying to see how we can help Quebec during these difficult times,” he said. 

It has now been more than a month since Quebec first declared a public health emergency, and the government has now extended it once again, until April 24. 

The declaration gives more power to Health Minister Danielle McCann and allows the government to, for example, ban gatherings and restrict access to different regions in the province. 

It was declared for the first time in Quebec’s history, on March 14, and has already been extended twice. The provincial government renewed it for a third time on Wednesday evening.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Quebec is expected to peak, or at least plateau, by this weekend, according to public health forecasts. 

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s public health director, says the curve is already beginning to flatten, indicating physical-distancing measures are working. 

The more positive outlook prompted Legault late last week to suggest sending children back to school and daycares sooner than the projected start date of May 4. Epidemiological experts in Quebec say there are both risks and benefits to such a move.

While the number of transmissions may be slowing in society at large, the pandemic has wreaked havoc inside long-term care homes, where staff decry deteriorating working conditions as more health-care workers fall ill to COVID-19, and more of their colleagues must stay home. 

Legault has acknowledged that long-term care institutions, both public and private, have long been short-staffed. So losing an estimated 2,000 nurses and patient attendants to sickness and self-isolation has paralyzed many of the homes. 

Families, banned from visiting their loved ones since March 14, are feeling despair as they struggle to stay in contact from a distance. 

Specialist doctors say they haven’t been told where to help

Wednesday, Legault appealed to doctors to step in to help in the homes, even doing nursing and other work. He said that many specialists have found themselves freed up by cancelled surgeries and non-emergency procedures. 

That plea from the premier raised a lot of eyebrows, as the Quebec Federation of Medical Specialists says it’s been offering its help to the government for weeks.

The federation’s president, Dr. Diane Francoeur, says the province wasn’t clear about what it wanted the doctors to do the first time it asked, and it still hasn’t told them where to go.

Legault says he wants them to support nurses and orderlies in CHSLDs. Whatever their tasks would be, specialists stand to earn about $211 per hour. 

A resident cries as she speaks to her son on the sidewalk at the Residence Floralies Lasalle. Eighteen of the residents have died in the last three weeks. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Montreal will advance $50K loans to small businesses

Meanwhile, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante says the city is in good financial shape and won’t be raising taxes any time soon. The city posted a $250-million budget surplus in 2019, Plante said.

The city announced Wednesday it will advance loans of up to $50,000 to as many as 1,000 businesses hard hit by the pandemic in the next two weeks, while it waits for $40 million promised by the Quebec government.

Businesses will not have to pay back the principal on those loans for the first six months, said Coun. Luc Rabouin, the city’s executive committee member in charge of economic development.

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