Will Quebecers get to spend Christmas together? Probably not: health experts

Santas have their temperature taken as they attend a socially distanced Santa school training at Southwark Cahedral in London, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

With Christmas only six weeks away, many Quebecers still don’t know if they’ll be able to spend time with family and friends over the holiday season.

Quebec’s red zones are under lockdown measures until Nov. 23 – and at least one Montreal epidemiologist thinks it’s unrealistic that people will be able to get together in the holiday season.

“People are not respecting social distancing and are not taking it seriously,” said Dr. Richard Menzies, an epidemiologist and professor at McGill University.

Premier Francois Legault said this week that he would like for people to be able to get together for Christmas.

“Most states in the United States that are very infected allow some visitation to people’s houses,” said Legault.

“Like I said last week, is it possible that starting Nov. 23 or during holiday season to have someone who lives with their parents have one or two people over? It’s something that were looking into, but what we want to avoid are large gatherings.”

The Legault government is now considering shutting down schools temporarily due to the continuing increase in COVID-19 cases among both staff and students. 

The total number of cases in schools since the start of the school year has now reached more than 10,000. 

The province and education unions will meet to discuss the possibility of having the school year extend into the summer to make up for lost weeks if a temporary closure does happen.

But Menzies isn’t the only expert who thinks that people shouldn’t get their hopes up. Dr. Eduardo Franco, an epidemiologist and professor at McGill University, also says it’s hard to see how Christmas visits could be harmless.

“With Montreal's present rate of 175.2 [cases] per 100,000 [people] in the last 14 days it means that two per cent of the population that has been tested is potentially shedding the virus,” said Franco.

“On average, then, any random gathering of 40 people has a high probability of having at least one infected person in the mix and thus with great potential to infect nearly everyone in the group."

Christmas gatherings in particular bring other risks, said Franco. He says we’ll likely see another surge of cases in the new year if they’re allowed, or if many people decide to have them.

“Christmas gatherings bring people together breathing the same air for prolonged periods of time. They will sing, laugh, and speak loudly, which increases aerosol dispersion,” said Franco. 

And although the Pfizer vaccine shows promise, Menzies pointed out that it will take months before large numbers of people get vaccinated.

So, regardless of the day-to-day policy updates, it’s likely time to get ready for something that has felt unimaginable to many: Zoom dinners with family and opening up presents over Facetime -- at least if the number of new daily cases doesn’t start to drop sharply.

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