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With Over 10,800 COVID-19 Deaths In Quebec, Here's What Went Wrong & How We Can Do Better

As of April 18, there have been 10,802 COVID-19 deaths in Quebec. The province marked one year since the beginning of the health crisis only a little over a month ago.

MTL Blog spoke with the Quebec Health Ministry and Dr. Christopher Labos, a cardiologist with a degree in epidemiology, about how we got to this grim milestone and how we can do better in the future.

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What went wrong in the health care network?

Early in the pandemic, the virus ran rampant through the province's long-term residential care facilities and CHSLDs.

Overall, the number of deaths peaked throughout April and May 2020 at these institutions, according to the INSPQ. 

Quebec's health ministry acknowledged that "the first wave brought many more deaths than we thought because of the outbreaks in the CHSLDs."

"When you have outbreaks in there; because they're older patients you're obviously going to have more hospitalizations and more deaths," explained Dr. Labos. 

According to data compiled by independent journalist Nora Loreto, at least two facilities in the Montreal area — the Centre d'hébergement Sainte-Dorothée and the Centre d'hébergement Notre-Dame-de-la-Merci — have seen over 100 resident deaths. 

"If we had known how contagious the virus was, we could have banned visits to long-term care centres more quickly," the ministry said in a statement shared with MTL Blog.

"We would have issued stricter directives on the wearing of protective equipment in hospitals, long-term care centres, and RPAs [private senior's residences]."

What could have been done to prevent all these deaths? 

Among the initial problems was an inadequate supply of personal protective equipment and hospital supplies, explained Dr. Labos.

"Early on in the pandemic, it was difficult to get testing [...] we had no effective treatments against this virus [...] it was just a bunch of things that sort of conspired that made it a difficult situation." 

The ministry also points to a delay in the lockdown and the more long-term issue of staff vacancies.

"Visits to the living environment were late in being banned and the movement of staff to meet a need for manpower contributed to the spread of the virus," admitted the health ministry. 

The lack of staff was so drastic that the province called in the military to assist in CHSLDs and launched a hiring campaign for nurses. Legault even claimed that around 9,500 workers were missing from the health care network. 

"You can't just hire people when there's an emergency, you need people in place when the emergency happens so that you can actually respond effectively," underlined Dr. Labos

Where do we go from here? How can we do better in the future? 

"There will be other viral illnesses and we have to be prepared to deal with them," explained Dr. Labos. 

And it's the reality that a new virus could emerge at any time that should sound the alarm bells for a health care network that was badly prepared for COVID-19, according to Labos.

He stressed that "if a new pandemic emerges, hopefully, we learn some of the lessons from this one." 

"Eventually, the government did shut down the borders. Eventually, the government did start testing people. Eventually, the government did implement quarantines. The question is not, are you going to do it? Is that, can you do it quickly enough?"

Quebec's Health Ministry, however, stopped short of laying all the responsibility on the health network and politicians that control the discourse, explaining that "it's also about people working together to implement health guidelines" — a common refrain in many of François Legault's press conferences. 

"COVID's experience has taught us to act much more quickly in making decisions and to keep records of the decisions taken."

Quebec has recorded a total of 10,802 deaths as of April 18.

This article's cover photo was used for illustrative purposes only.

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