Quebec, we know you’re getting together this weekend. Here’s how to try to stay COVID-free

More than two years and six waves later, it’s safe to say Quebecers are fed up with this pandemic. 

And with the long weekend upon us, a lot of people will be planning to gather with friends and family, especially those who celebrate Easter and Passover.

After all, it’s been a while since there’s been a long weekend with so few COVID-19 restrictions in effect.

CBC News spoke with experts who shared tips on how to help limit the risk of infection during your weekend gatherings.

Should we even gather?

Indoor gatherings are allowed. After all, the province has lifted most pandemic restrictions. But this weekend’s large get-togethers come with risk.

“People should consider minimizing unnecessary gatherings,” said Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious diseases specialist and medical microbiologist at the McGill University Health Centre.

“That, however, is not realistic, and perhaps even extreme.”

Quebec just surpassed 2,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations this week for the first time since mid-February, when the province was recovering from an Omicron-fuelled fifth wave that pushed the health-care system to its limit.

And although PCR tests are not as available as they once were, Quebec still reported more than 3,000 confirmed cases on both Wednesday and Thursday.

No one can stop you from going to that big dinner party with 20 or 30 people, but experts say it’s important to be prudent and mindful of others, especially those who are more vulnerable to the disease.

Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious diseases specialist at the McGill University Health Centre, said rapid tests are a good tool to use if you are symptom-free and trying to determine if you should go to a gathering. (Submitted by Sandra Sciangula)

What if I have symptoms?

Experts agree that if you have any COVID-19 symptoms — no matter how mild — you should cancel your plans and stay home.

“If you’re feeling symptomatic, don’t push it,” said Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious diseases specialist at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital.

“Don’t put those around you at risk of getting exposed. Say, ‘Thanks, sorry, I’m going to stay home,’ and maybe order DoorDash or Uber or something like that.”

Oughton says you should watch for symptoms such as a fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat and body aches. 

On Wednesday, Dr. Luc Boileau, Quebec’s interim public health director, said the province is also up against an unseasonal wave of influenza.

COVID-19 and the flu have several symptoms in common. Even if you have any doubts about what you have, Boileau urged people to stay home to avoid infecting others.

Can rapid tests help?

Although rapid antigen tests are not as effective in detecting COVID-19 as PCR tests are, they can be a useful tool. 

“If you don’t have any symptoms, you should test yourself with a rapid test a few hours before the event, paying particular attention to swabbing your nose as well as either the inside of both cheeks or the back of your throat, on the sides,” Vinh said.

WATCH | Learn about the new procedure for rapid testing:

Health Ministry explains new rapid test procedure

7 days ago

Duration 0:58

Dr. Jean Longtin, a microbiologist with the Quebec Health Ministry, outlines the new COVID-19 rapid test swabbing procedure shown in a government video. 0:58

Rapid tests can also come in handy for people who have recently tested positive for COVID-19 and no longer have symptoms. 

In any event, if you test positive, it is best to scrap those dinner plans.

Being vaccinated with at least three doses and ensuring that everyone around you this weekend has had three vaccine doses will go a long way toward limiting the spread of the virus, in case someone you are in contact with does have COVID-19, Vinh said.

People who have yet to receive their third doses — and that means 46 per cent of Quebecers  — are more exposed to the virus.

Despite the rain in the weather forecast, Quebecers will be eager to get together during this long weekend. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

How do I limit chances of an outbreak?

Good news. It’s spring. 

Even though rain is in the forecast this weekend, it is still much more possible to gather with others outdoors than it would be in the middle of January.

“Ventilation is absolutely everybody’s best friend,” said Oughton. “If the weather co-operates, and you can do some of your get-together outside, that’s marvelous because, outside, people are naturally and relatively well-distanced, [and there’s] lots of air circulation.”

If you have to stay inside, then crack some windows open, and you should also think about masking up.

“Realistically, the likelihood of people wearing masks for an indoor gathering is low,” said Prativa Baral, a Montrealer who is a PhD candidate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Montrealer Prativa Baral, an epidemiologist and doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said with the virus circulating so widely in Quebec, its impact should not be underestimated. (Jerome James)

“But if there are people who are not vaccinated in your gathering, if there are people who are at higher risk because they are immunocompromised or for various other reasons, then I would still suggest that wearing a mask will reduce risk as well.”

Baral also encourages people to lie low for a few days after a gathering to see if they develop symptoms. That way, if they do contract COVID-19, they avoid infecting others.

The 6th wave has begun. How important is this weekend?

Given how much the virus could circulate, Baral says this weekend is a “critical” one that could influence the shape of the province’s sixth wave over the next few weeks.

Although she points out that high vaccination rates — especially among Quebecers 60 and older — should help limit repercussions, she says it’s important for people not to underestimate the virus.

“Everybody around me is getting COVID right now in Montreal, people who haven’t had COVID in the last two years. So there’s a lot of virus circulating around us,” she said.

“Anything that we can do to add those layers of protection will be helpful.”

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