Quebec has two weeks to clean a portfolio of recovering COVID-19 patients at hospitals in the Montreal region, doctors say, or the city's health centers will not be prepared for the reopening of schools and businesses.
Currently, hospitals in the Montreal region are running out of beds, three weeks after health officials stop sending elderly patients back to the province's long-term care network, where the coronavirus continues to spread and takes dozens of lives. per day.
"This is a new problem and needs to be resolved quickly," said Gilbert Boucher, head of Quebec's association of emergency medicine experts.
"There are a number of beds dedicated to COVID-positive patients on the island of Montreal. And these are full. There are still other beds in empty hospitals, but less and less."
The problem, said Boucher, is not an influx of new cases. Hospitalizations remained stable for several weeks, a point the government used to declare that it has the outbreak under control.
But most hospitalized cases are from long-term care centers, known as CHSLDs. Patients who are recovering and no longer need hospital care have nowhere else to go, because they can still be positive for COVID and the centers are experiencing outbreaks.
& # 39; We need space & # 39;
According to the latest data made available by the provincial health authorities – which date from May 1 – 4,280 of Montreal's 6,300 hospital beds were being used. (This includes 880 patients with COVID-19.)
The situation is tighter on the island. In Laval, 486 out of 500 hospital beds were in use (86 patients with COVID-19) and, in Montérégie, south of Montreal, 1,760 out of 2,000 were in use (160 patients with COVID-19).
Eliminating this delay will be critical if Prime Minister François Legault wants to maintain his May 19 timeline for reopening elementary schools and retail stores in the Montreal area.
"This should happen in the next two weeks," Boucher told CBC News. "If confinement happens, we need space in hospitals to care for these patients with COVID."
Legault has already changed his plan once. Earlier this week, he postponed the reopening of retail stores in Montreal, which had initially been scheduled for next Monday.
He said that hospitals in the Montreal area were overcrowded and did not have enough capacity to comfortably handle the increase in cases that are expected to result from easing the containment measures that have been in place for more than a month.
The province has set aside about 700 beds around Montreal to serve as temporary recovery wards, hotel conversion, hockey rinks and other places to accommodate the hospital's overflow.
But on Wednesday, Health Minister Danielle McCann said the huge shortage of personnel in the health care system – more than 11,000 workers are absent daily – is limiting how many patients can be transferred to these temporary wards.
"We have the physical locations, but we don't have the staff to transfer more people who are currently in hospitals, but who can be transferred to the buffer zones," McCann told reporters.
In order to ease the pressure on Montreal hospitals, patients are being diverted. McCann revealed on Wednesday that some patients were sent to Trois-Rivières, about 140 kilometers from Montreal.
Emergency rooms in the Montreal area are also busier than in recent weeks, according to data from the Ministry of Health, although visits are still low compared to the same period last year.
Much of this increased traffic is people who avoided the emergency room at the start of the pandemic because they feared getting the virus, said François de Champlain, an emergency room physician at McGill University Health Center.
"Many people are realizing that they can no longer postpone their health problems," said de Champlain. "We are seeing a lot of patients who have ignored their symptoms for so long, like chest pain, and they suddenly present with full MIs [heart attacks]. "
But De Champlain also said it is important to prevent hospitals from operating at 100% capacity, so that they can absorb a potential influx of new cases once containment measures are suspended.
"It will be difficult to police [public health directives] while you open schools and stores. And we are concerned about a potential increase in transmissions, "he said.
Quebec's public health director, Horacio Arruda, said the situation in Montreal hospitals, while stable, is still worrying.
"We still have room to maneuver," he told reporters at Wednesday's briefing. "But we are going to reevaluate the numbers throughout the week."
Legault was not present at Wednesday's press conference.