MONTREAL — Health officials in Quebec City say it's too early to tell whether a major outdoor festival there is contributing to a rise in COVID-19 cases, but an infectious disease expert says additional precautions are needed now.
With many more festivals planned in Quebec this summer, Dr. Don Vinh of the McGill University Health Centre called on people to get back in the habit of masking and physical distancing.
"The message was always that outdoor events were associated with a lower risk of transmission," Vinh said in an interview Tuesday. "But what happened is that it was interpreted as no risk of transmission. That’s the problem with the message. It's not black and white."
He said an increase of cases is possible as Quebec's festival season hits high gear. "It doesn’t mean we cancel festivals," he said. "It means we act now so the future festivals can be done safely so they don’t become superspreader events."
Jean-Thomas Grantham, a spokesman for the main hospital network in Quebec City, the CHU de Québec-Université Laval, said it is too early to see any impact on case numbers from the Festival d'été de Québec, an 11-day music festival that opened last Wednesday.
"We aren't receiving any reports at the moment about the event," Grantham said in an interview on Tuesday, adding that authorities are not seeking out the information either. "We don't do a survey to find out where people are getting infected," he said.
Last week, Quebec's public health director said the province had joined Ontario in entering a seventh wave of COVID-19. Dr. Luc Boileau said there were signs the wave would peak in July, and he recommended that people at risk wear masks.
In Quebec City, authorities reported 873 cases for the week of July 3 to July 9, an increase of 35 per cent from two weeks earlier.
Mathieu Boivin, from the city's local health authority, said it was difficult to attribute the increase to a specific event.
"The increase in cases, however, coincides with the arrival of the BA.4 and BA.5 variants in the region and the removal of the wearing of masks in public places (in particular public transport)," Boivin said in an email on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the province reported 23 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus and a 54-patient rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations on Tuesday.
The Health Department said there are 1,663 people hospitalized with the disease after 374 patients were admitted in the past 24 hours and 320 were discharged.
There are 38 people listed in intensive care, a decline of six patients.
Officials reported 2,076 new cases detected with PCR testing and that 6,659 health-care workers are off the job because of COVID-19.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 12, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press