Quebec should postpone lifting mask mandates: experts

Acting Public Health Director Luc Boileau is expected to announce Monday whether Quebec will postpone lifting mask mandates scheduled for April 15.

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With Quebec reassessing its plan to lift mask mandates in a week and a half, experts have urged the government to keep them.

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“I think there’s no problem continuing the mask mandate,” said Dr. Catherine Hankins, co-chair of Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force and professor of medicine in the department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health at McGill University.

“My own personal advice that I give quite strongly to anyone who asks me is to wear a mask. What is the problem? It protects you and it protects other people,” she added.

Acting Public Health Director Luc Boileau is expected to announce Monday whether Quebec will postpone a planned lifting of mask mandates on April 15, now that the province is officially in a sixth wave.

The government should not only maintain mask mandates, but reinstate them in schools, said Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist and medical microbiologist at the McGill University Health Center (MUHC).

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Quebec schools saw a 75 percent increase in pandemic-related absences last week, informed the Department of Education.

The end of the mask mandate in schools on March 7 has helped increase cases across the population, Vinh said.

“It’s because of the acquisition of COVID in the community, especially from school-age children,” he said.

While many cases appear to be mild, it’s not because the BA.2 subvariant is milder than previous variants, but because of the high level of immunity in the population, Hankins said.

“Vaccines don’t prevent transmission, but you’re much less likely to end up in hospital and with a serious outcome,” he said.

“It is milder because people are already vaccinated or have had previous infections. It’s not like it’s actually evolving in any way to get weaker,” Hankins said.

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The province should act decisively to promote booster injection among young age groups, Vinh said.

Only 34 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 29 have received the third dose, while among those aged 30 to 39, the rate was 42 per cent, according to an update on friday by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

“You need three doses to be able to protect yourself,” Vinh said.

The number of Quebecers hospitalized with the virus rose by 28 to 1,350, according to data released Sunday. Of them, 72 were in intensive care, five more than the day before.

The number of patients hospitalized the previous Sunday was 1,088.

Seven more COVID-19-related deaths were reported on Sunday and 15 on Saturday, bringing the death toll in Quebec since the start of the pandemic to 14,404.

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Another 2,581 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed by PCR tests at government clinics. Since that form of testing is out of reach for most Quebecers, the numbers are just the tip of the iceberg.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases identified through PCR testing has now climbed back up to 2,714, from a recent low of 1,062 in mid-March.

mscott@postmedia.com

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