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Quebec looking at options for a gradual return from COVID-19 measures

MONTREAL — As Quebec attempts to get a handle on the COVID-19 crisis in long-term care homes, Premier Francois Legault said Tuesday the province will begin to plan for a gradual return of everyday activities, including the reopening schools and dayca
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MONTREAL — As Quebec attempts to get a handle on the COVID-19 crisis in long-term care homes, Premier Francois Legault said Tuesday the province will begin to plan for a gradual return of everyday activities, including the reopening schools and daycares.

"Of course, we still need some time to be sure that the pandemic is under control before reopening the economy and the schools," Legault said Tuesday, emphasizing measures would be introduced gradually and with the blessing of public health officials. "We'll table a plan to tell you exactly how it will be done in the next weeks and months."

Legault said that would include how to bring children out of confinement and back to schools and daycares sometime down the road — but stressed he didn't foresee putting kids in school during the summer months.

Some parts of the province less affected by COVID-19 could open first, the premier said, but he made clear waiting until September to reopen schools and daycares wasn't optimal either.

"You don't want to have one million children going back to school all at the same time, because then, if they infect their parents ... we have a big wave of people needing to be hospitalized. We'll be in trouble," Legault said. "So, we have to do that gradually and every week, we have to test the results of this gradual opening — it's true for companies, it's also true for schools."

Legault wasn't prepared to say whether physical distancing would be practised at schools. 

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, said wearing masks might be obligatory for situations where a two-metre physical distance isn't possible, such as on public transit.

"It is not in our culture to use masks here, like it is in Hong Kong or other countries," Arruda said. "But we don't forget to wash your hands and to be careful."

But Legault said the priority for now remains long-term care homes, with 80 such facilities reporting extremely high infection rates and a lack of staff.

Despite cancelling non-essential surgeries and dispatching those hospital staff to the undermanned homes, Legault and Health Minister Danielle McCann assured anyone in need of surgery was still getting it.

Meanwhile, Quebec reached a pair of grim milestones Tuesday, recording 102 more deaths to bring the total over 1,000, while surpassing 20,000 cases overall. The province currently has 201 patients in intensive care.

Of the total fatalities, 850 are among residents of long-term care homes and there are more than 4,000 confirmed cases in those homes.

Legault said 2,000 orderlies and nurses who typically work in the homes are ill or off work, but can be replaced for the coming weeks by a mix of specialists and recent medical grads until the regular staff gradually return. 

On Tuesday, three professional orders in Quebec announced the latest investigation into long-term care homes.

The province's College of Physicians, Order of Nurses and Order of Auxiliary Nurses will look at the quality of care provided by their respective members in the both private and publicly managed centres.

The joint probe will focus on Residence Herron, a privately owned long-term care home in Dorval; and the Montreal Geriatrics Institute, a public facility.

They say those test cases will provide an accounting of the situation in both the private and public setting and at the end, investigators will submit a joint report with recommendations for actions.

Luc Mathieu, the head of the Quebec nurses' order, said a severe lack of resources and nursing expertise in the province's long-term care homes means the model as a whole needs to be reviewed.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2020.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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