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A sign for a COVID-19 vaccination clinic is shown in Montreal, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

A sign for a COVID-19 vaccination clinic is shown in Montreal, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL - The president of the union representing teachers at Quebec's English-language schools says she's worried as public health authorities close more schools due to outbreaks linked to suspected cases of coronavirus variants.

Health officials in Laval, Montreal's largest suburb, said Monday they have detected suspected cases of coronavirus variants at four schools in the city.

At least 10 schools across the province have been fully or partially closed because of suspected cases of variants. The majority are in the Montreal area, though one school in Quebec City and another in the Abitibi region have also been closed.

Heidi Yetman, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, said in an interview Monday she's worried teachers will get sick. She said she would like to see reduced class sizes to allow for distancing, portable ventilation in classrooms and more use of rapid tests.

"Those three things, I think, could make things a lot better," Yetman said, adding that she would also like to see teachers moved up on Quebec's vaccination priority list.

Dr. Marie-Pascale Pomey, a professor at the Universite de Montreal's school of public health, said rapid tests can be useful anywhere where the same group of people is regularly in close contact — as is the case in schools.

Rapid tests — which can give results in 15 minutes — are most useful, she said, when a specific group can be followed over time, because they allow quick detection of people who become positive. They can be particularly helpful to slow the spread of variants inside schools, she added.

"That's what we're looking for, people who change status, who are negative and become positive," Pomey said. "That alerts us to the fact that they are potentially at risk of transmitting the virus."

Pomey said she thinks schools should stay open but that teachers should be vaccinated quickly.

Quebec's government-mandated public health institute said Monday that 86 more suspected cases of coronavirus variants have been detected in the province, for a total of 415 suspected cases. Quebec has confirmed 23 cases.

The majority of the confirmed cases in Quebec are of a variant first detected in the United Kingdom that is believed to be more transmissible than the dominant form of the virus currently circulating in Quebec.

Projections from the public health institute, released Feb. 17, suggested schools would be among the first places affected by the spread of new variants because they house people who have extended contact with one another.

Meanwhile, 23 residents and at least five staff members at a long-term care centre in Gatineau, Que., have tested positive for COVID-19. It is the most serious outbreak in a long-term care centre in the province.

Dr. Carol McConnery, a medical adviser to the regional public health authority, said most residents of the facility have received a single dose of vaccine, which appears to be protecting them from severe illness.

"The patients are not sick, very few symptoms, no transfers to hospital care," she said. "We know with measles, with mumps, with influenza, that vaccinated people can get infected anyway but do not develop the complication, and that's what we're seeing."

McConnery told reporters on Monday the investigation into how the outbreak began is ongoing. However, she said fewer than half the workers at the facility have received the first dose of vaccine.

The number of cases at the Lionel-Emond facility is rising rapidly. As of Sunday, there were eight confirmed cases, all of which had been detected within the previous 24 hours.

Earlier Monday, Quebec reported 805 new cases of COVID-19 and 11 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including two that occurred within the previous 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations rose by three, to 689, and 117 people were in intensive care, a drop of two.

The province said it administered 7,396 doses of vaccine Sunday, for a total of 353,894. Quebec has reported a total of 282,927 COVID-19 infections and 10,318 deaths linked to the virus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2021.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.