"The outcome of these policies is clear — people will get sick."
In a July 21 press conference, the province's public health director, Luc Boileau, laid out the latest advice for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in Quebec. These things are not what one might call riveting, so we can't blame you for skipping out. If you weren't in attendance, here are the opinions of several experts and the main takeaways.
First, Boileau made clear that, for the time being, he prefers to encourage what he called "basic precautionary measures" – including hand-washing, social distancing, and mask-wearing – rather than make them once again mandatory.
He especially called on those considered vulnerable to protect themselves by masking but stressed that these measures will remain a personal choice.
"Saying that it is a personal decision and responsibility to wear a mask and protect others is beyond ridiculous," said Dr. Mark Goldberg, a professor in the department of medicine at McGill University and an environmental epidemiologist, in an email to MTL Blog.
"People do not like masks and will not wear them unless it is mandated," he explained. "We force people to wear seatbelts because we know that this will save lives. We know that masks, especially good ones like N95s, protect people."
"At this point, it should be strongly recommended to wear a mask in public transportation AND during every gathering of a lot of people (regardless if it is a festival, a wedding, a political event, a scientific conference, a religious gathering...)," Dr. Anne Gatignol, a professor of microbiology and immunology at McGill University, told MTL Blog.
Goldberg was unsatisfied with Boileau's only gentle encouragement of mask-wearing among vulnerable people. He called the current strategy "essentially criminal in that the outcome of these policies is clear — people will get sick."
At the press conference, Boileau tried to draw a distinction between the current wave of infections and those of years past. "It's important at this point to remember that this illness is less virulent, it leads to fewer deaths. We have had more deaths because we've had many more people who have caught COVID," he asserted (emphasis his), calling the challenges posed by Omicron and its variants a "new world."
Despite the increase in cases, Boileau cited INESS projections which appear to indicate an approaching plateau in Quebec’s hospitalization numbers. "That's not to say [hospitalizations] are going down," he clarified. "They're still high, but they’re not going up again."
"Anyone with any basic understanding of infectious diseases and public health should be alarmed by the increasing trend in hospitalizations," Goldberg countered.