Unclear if rising COVID-19 cases in Quebec will lead to big jump in hospital patients

COVID-19-related hospitalizations are relatively stable across Quebec despite a steady rise in infections — a sign the province’s vaccination campaign is working, according to an immunology expert.

But Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious diseases specialist at the McGill University Health Centre, says that while it’s possible hospitalizations and deaths will not rise sharply along with new cases, he cautions that it’s too early to be certain.

“It’s not clear right now, are we seeing the calm before the storm, or are we seeing the storm and it may be just a rainstorm rather than a tropical storm?” he said in an interview Monday.

Over the past week, Quebec has reported an average of 365 new infections a day, up from an average of 235 the week before and an average of 139 on Aug. 1, according to the province’s Health Department.

Since Aug. 1, pandemic-linked hospitalizations have risen by 21, to 82. There have been three deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus since the 1st of the month.

Vinh said the data indicates the most vulnerable people in the province are being protected by the vaccines.

“That makes it harder for the virus to find susceptible people and when it does find susceptible people, it tends to be people who are, obviously, not as old and with fewer medical problems,” he said. “So the likelihood, when it finds those susceptible people, of landing them in hospital is a little bit either lower, or delayed.”

Premier Francois Legault told reporters Monday he expected the number of cases in the province to continue rising, warning that unvaccinated people are “at high risk, the variant is very contagious.”

The Health Department said Monday that 51 per cent of new COVID-19 cases in the province detected the week of Aug. 7 are suspected to involve the Delta variant, up from 45.1 per cent the week before.

Andre Veillette, an immunologist at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute, said in other parts of the country where the number of new daily cases began rising earlier than in Quebec, a rise in hospitalizations has followed.

“We’re not special in Quebec; we’re not special in Ontario,” he said. “I think the same thing is going to happen here. It’s probably going to be within the next couple of weeks.”

Veillette, however, said that due to vaccination, the percentage of cases that lead to hospitalization is likely to be lower than in previous waves. He said unvaccinated and partially vaccinated people are most likely to be affected, and while younger and healthier people are less likely to require hospitalization, some will become seriously ill.

According to the Institut national de sante publique du Quebec, two of the three people in Quebec whose deaths were linked to COVID-19 this month were between 30 and 39. The INSPQ said Monday that 73.5 per cent of residents 12 and older are considered adequately vaccinated.

While Veillette said vaccination offers the best protection against COVID-19, it’s not perfect and he worries the virus will spread quickly among children under 12 when school resumes in the fall.

Legault said he’s concerned about lower vaccination rates in Inuit communities in northern Quebec. According to the INSPQ, about 48.9 per cent of residents 12 and older in the Nunavik region are adequately vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Christian Dube said on Twitter the rising number of new cases is particularly concerning in Montreal, its northern suburb Laval and the Lanaudiere region, north of the city. There are currently 98.1 active cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people in Laval, 49.6 in Montreal and 40 in Lanaudiere, according to the INSPQ.

Quebec reported 409 new cases of COVID-19 Monday and 754 more infections identified on Friday and Saturday.

— This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 16, 2021.

Unclear if rising COVID-19 cases in Quebec will lead to big jump in hospital patients