Montreal calls for more testing capacity as thousands of bar-bars line up to see if they are infected

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Montreal public health officials say they need more capacity to test the coronavirus, as thousands of young adults answer a citywide call to find out if they’ve been in a bar in the past month.The call was released on Saturday afternoon following reports of a possible outbreak in a handful of bars in the Montreal area.

On Tuesday morning, people stood in line for three hours outside the walk-in screening clinic of the former Hôtel-Dieu hospital, located in one of the densest residential areas of the city.

Dr. David Kaiser, a doctor with the public health authority on the island of Montreal, said that tests have increased by 50% since last week, especially among 20-39 year olds. About 3,000 people have been tested in the past two days in Montreal.

But with the increase in testing, officials are discovering more cases.

The positivity rate in Montreal – that is, the number of cases found per total number of tests – had fallen below 1%. It’s now about three percent, said Kaiser, an increase of 10 to 15 cases per day.

Although still far below the peak reached between late April and mid-May, the increase prompted city officials to look for ways to increase testing capacity.

“These are cases that would not necessarily have been detected otherwise,” Kaiser said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon, noting that young COVID-19 carriers tended to have fewer symptoms or to be asymptomatic.

“Getting young people out to get tested will help us with the public health response,” he said.

Need more clinics

Although it is responsible for public health in the largest city in Quebec, the Montreal public health service does not control screening resources on its territory – which are the responsibility of the regional health authorities and the provincial ministry of Health. Kaiser said he expected the two to mobilize more resources in the coming days to reduce wait times at drop-in centers.

“From a public health perspective, walk-in clinics are needed across the island of Montreal,” said Kaiser.

WATCH | More Montrealers tested positive:

Dr. David Kaiser, of Montreal public health, says that 3% of people in Montreal who have a COVID-19 test have a positive result. 0:49

Prime Minister François Legault said Tuesday that provincial authorities will make adjustments to meet demand for testing in Montreal.

He also said he was “not satisfied” with the daily number of tests done in the province.

He has given the same answer for several months because Quebec has not reached its daily goal of 14,000 tests.

Bars listening to customers

Public health officials have linked some 30 COVID-19 cases to nine different bars in the Montreal area since the bars reopened late last month. Some have turned to social media to say that staff or clients have tested positive.

In a Facebook post on Monday evening, the Irish pub McKibbin in Pointe-Claire announced that one of its employees had tested positive.

“Although the risk of exposure to our customers is low, as we have implemented all government security guidelines, we encourage anyone who has visited our West Island facility to get tested, ”the publication said.

The pub said it would close for the next two days to give staff time to get tested and allow the space to be fully sanitized and disinfected.

The Mineral Bar in the Gay Village also urges customers and staff to get tested because they have learned that many customers and employees are positive.

Kaiser noted that finding contact can be difficult with people who have been drinking.

“Without being ill-intentioned, they can forget who they have been in contact with,” he said, and encouraged customers to fill out the registers that bars have set up.

He also indicated that, for the moment, there were no plans to close the bars or restaurants, despite the increase in the number of cases.

The public health contact tracing team is still determining the role that bars play in current chains of transmission. Cases have also recently been linked to workplaces and private events, such as parties and barbecues, said Kaiser.

“We currently have no epidemics linked to grocery stores or restaurants,” he said.

Last week, the province announced new regulations for bars, including closer closing times and reduced capacity.

The bars are also included in the Quebec regulations on mandatory masks which will come into force on July 18.

The McKibbin Irish pub in Pointe-Claire is one of the many bars on the island of Montreal where someone has tested positive for COVID-19. (Kate McKenna / CBC)

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