COVID-19 results of the next few days will be decisive for the future, experts say

The next reports on new cases of COVID-19 will be scrutinized by experts, as the trends have shown those numbers have been on the rise in recent days.

"It is in the next week that we should see in the data if there were any gatherings during the Holidays," said the director of the Research Group in mathematical modelling of infectious diseases at Laval University, Marc Brisson.

The most recent data is worrying.

Since December 18, Quebec has been reporting more than 2,000 new cases of COVID-19 every day.

According to the epidemiologist at the School of Public Health of the University of Montreal Benoit Masse, the effects of the reduction in contacts since Dec. 17 - the day schools closed and telework returned - should have been reflected in the daily reports for the last week.

"I sincerely expected to see a reduction in new infections around December 28 or 29," he said.

In the majority of cases, there is a delay of about 10 days between when a person is infected with COVID-19 and when they test positive.

"If the numbers continue to increase at the rate of the last few days, it will be clear that the reduction in contacts that was imposed from December 17 will not have been sufficient," said Masse.

However, he added that "if we hadn't put these measures in place, maybe we would have over 3,000 a day today."

Like Brisson, the epidemiologist is of the opinion that the data for the next few days will make it possible to assess how Quebecers have respected distancing measures on Christmas and Christmas Eve.

The repercussions on hospitalizations should also be felt soon.

"However, it's getting late," he said. "If we had reduced our contacts enough, we should see the positive impacts now, which is not the case. So, it's really worrying for the future."

NOT THE TRAVELLERS' FAULT

Even though people who have chosen to leave the country over the holiday break have garnered attention in recent days, Masse said, these are not the ones to be blamed for the high numbers in the holiday season.

"It's really community transmission that is done on a large scale in Quebec," he says.

To explain the significant transmission of the virus recently, the epidemiologist notes that family bubbles spend more time together during the holidays, which may increase the risk that a family member who has COVID-19 contaminates others.

"I even see it in my family," said Masse. "We're more glued to each other than we were this summer or September, when we could eat or do other activities outside."

Brisson adds that this element is also reflected in the statistics.

"Even if the number of contacts has remained rather stable in the last weeks, we notice a change in the type of contacts," he explained.

The "probability of transmission" of the virus, or the possibility of a sick person infecting another, is higher.

DIFFICULT DECISIONS AHEAD

The next report on COVID-19 cases in Quebec will be published on Sunday. The government will present the figures for the day of Dec. 31, as well as those of Jan. 1 and 2.

This assessment, like those reported next week, will be anxiously awaited by the experts, since they believe that the government will have to act if the figures are still on the rise.

"It would be difficult to justify the reopening of schools on January 11 if the cases continue to increase," said Masse. "Schools are important places of transmission."

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 17,000 students and 4,000 staff have contracted COVID-19 through the education system.

Schools and non-essential businesses are due to reopen on Jan. 11, as the government ordered before the holiday break.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Minister of Health and Social Services Christian Dube said it was still too early to determine whether it would be necessary to extend the containment measures.

In its latest report, published on Dec. 31, Quebec reported 2,819 new cases of COVID-19. A total of 1,175 people were hospitalized, and 165 of them were in intensive care.

-- this report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 2, 2021. 

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