Growing COVID-19 case count pushes Montreal into the red zone

Quebec’s provincial government announced on Sept. 30 that Montreal is now one of three zones in the province under a red alert due to its rapidly growing number of COVID-19 cases. From Oct. 1 to 28, the city will enforce new restrictions on public and private gatherings designed to limit in-person contact in an attempt to minimize the effects of the pandemic’s second wave. 

The red zone is the highest level of alert according to Quebec’s colour-coded scale. Zones are determined based on indicators such as regional case count, hospitalization rates, and public health capacities. With 1,107 new cases in Quebec reported on Sept. 26 alone, public health officials recommended a 28-day partial lockdown to promote public health and safety in the Montreal community. 

Under the red zone restrictions, various public spaces will be closed, including bars and restaurants. Public and private gatherings, even outdoors, are prohibited, and residents are expected to limit their social circle to those living in their household. 

Although restrictions are currently set for 28 days, the province can extend this timeline if public health experts do not see substantial improvement in the number of new cases and rates of hospital admission. Public compliance with Montreal’s red zone restrictions in the coming weeks will be pivotal in limiting the spread of the virus. McGill Faculty of Medicine professor David Buckeridge sees the 28-day period as necessary for calculating the effects of the restrictions. 

“There’s a lag between when [an] infection occurs, [when] symptoms begin, and when the next person [becomes] infected,”Buckeridge said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “Twenty-eight days will be about the time we start to see the effects of these restrictions.”

The possible extension of the 28 day restriction period, however, presents challenges for local businesses. McGill Retail Management and Operations professor Maxime Cohen sees a robust online presence as crucial for small businesses hoping to survive this next stage of the pandemic.

“Hopefully […] small business owners will understand [the] importance of digitization and moving to the e-commerce world,” Cohen said. “Several smaller [businesses] that still haven’t made [the] switch will unfortunately be hit quite hard.” 

Regardless of how long Montreal remains a red zone, the reduced number of students living in Montreal due to online classes has affected businesses that depend on student traffic. With McGill’s recent announcement confirming that the Winter 2021 semester will be delivered online, many small businesses will continue to depend on government subsidies to make up for lost revenue. 

Although closures are intended to prevent unnecessary exposure to the virus, Thom Haghigat, U3 Science, who tested positive for COVID-19 despite maintaining a small social circle, worries that this 28-day period could backfire. 

“When you’re going for a whole month without seeing any people, and then suddenly the restriction is taken off, I feel like a lot of people will end up [socializing] after the whole ‘red zone’ is over,” Haghigat said.

Student disregard for public health regulations has been a serious concern since classes resumed in September. The Milton-Parc community has had one of the highest neighbourhood COVID-19 case counts for the past two weeks due to indoor gatherings. Montreal public health physician David Kaiser, however, believes that universities have a responsibility to find ways to safely compensate for the lack of social interaction that comes as a result of online classes. 

“There’s a social component to being in university,” Kaiser said. “It can’t just be up to students to come up with solutions [….] The universities [need to] really help students identify how to make changes over the next few months so that people can stay sane [and] happy [while keeping] the risk of transmission […] low.”

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