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10 things the Quebec government should be doing right now to fight COVID19

So François Legault wants to play the blame game with the Federal government for not supplying vaccines fast enough? Fine, procurement is a federal responsibility, so fair enough. We’ll handwave away that even a month into the vaccination campaign, Quebec still has only used some 85% of the vaccine supply we have on hand — and that a week ago, that number was below 50%. But Legault et al are insistent on patting themselves on the back for a job well done, while simultaneously blaming Justin Trudeau for not supplying enough.

Supply should scale up dramatically this spring. But while Legault is waiting for the shipments that are coming, there’s no excuse not to immediately implement the following:


We now have data to back up what any damn fool could have told you last fall: Schools are a major source of spread of COVID19. They were responsible for roughly 1 in 3 cases in Montreal prior to the holidays.

I’ve heard every excuse in the book, ranging from the need to protect kids’ fragile mental health (as though the mental health of healthcare workers, adults who’ve lost their jobs or livelihoods, or families mourning the loss of loved ones doesn’t count) to “schools are safe” (we have hard evidence that they’re not) to “insufficient teachers to implement distance learning” (when they’re successfully doing this literally everywhere else in the world). None of them are the truth. They’re all just excuses.

The truth is, the Legault government sees schools as childcare, and without childcare, many parents can’t work. And if parents can’t work, the economy stops chugging along. And that’s been the ONLY priority of their government all along.

But we know the math. A hard shutdown done properly can end the pain and the economic bleeding in a matter of weeks, not years. It will get us back on track economically much faster. Shutting down the schools will be stressful, sure, and we’ll need to accompany it with financial assistance and job protection for parents who miss work. And some childcare for truly essential workers will need to be provided, sure, but it’s minimal. Meanwhile, closing our poorly ventilated, overcrowded schools will protect students, teachers, families, parents and grandparents. It will reduce community spread, and will reduce the case numbers in our hospitals. There’s no winning without shutting the schools, period.


We need free, safe, no-questions-asked places for people in densely populated cities to go if they feel they might be showing symptoms, where they can self-isolate from their families and other household members without getting them sick. Ontario is doing this. Why aren’t we?

Most apartment dwellers don’t have the privilege assumed by the public health guidelines — separate floors, separate bedrooms and bathrooms, etc. — to self-isolate at home. Many people have family members who are seniors or high risk individuals. If one member of a household gets sick, more quickly follow. But many have nowhere else to go.

Our hotels are mostly empty. Let’s repurpose them for this, inviting people to come and stay in a place where they will be provided with meals, laundry, internet access so they can work and communicate, and support by healthcare staff.


Christian Dube had a cringeworthy moment in yesterday’s press conference where he stated that Quebec “has no use” for the more than 1.3 million rapid COVID tests that are sitting unused, because we have enough PCR tests.

His response showed him to be either willfully ignorant or just plain stupid. By this point in the pandemic, we know full well that rapid tests, while less accurate than the “gold standard” PCR tests, are a valuable tool in fighting COVID by routinely testing people whether or not they are symptomatic in an effort to quickly isolate those who are ill before they can further spread it to others. The 24, 48 or 72 hours that these tests buy us far outweigh the risk of a few false negatives or false positives. They can be useful in essential service workplaces, food manufacturing facilities, shipping warehouses, hospitals, prisons, and yes, schools. Slovakia tested its ENTIRE population — twice — over the space of a few weeks. They identified and isolated thousands of cases. It can be done, if only we had the will.


We need to hire thousands of contact tracers, modernize their technology (they’re still using fax machines), and be able to trace contacts in a matter of minutes or hours, not days. A big push to urge people to adopt the federal contact tracing app wouldn’t hurt, but for it to work, public health routinely needs to provide these codes with every positive test result — as it currently stands, people have to specifically ask for one, and even then, many are not being provided.

At this point it’s as though Quebec has utterly given up on contact tracing. But in order to fight this pandemic with the scalpel of isolated outbreak quarantines rather than the vastly more damaging hammer of mass lockdowns, we need to have this capacity in place, urgently. As soon as case numbers come down enough to allow us to start reopening sectors of society, the only way we avoid making the same mistakes as last summer and being right back in this mess is by contact tracing meaningfully.


We’ve managed to vaccinate fewer than 100,000 out of our 8.5 million people so far. That’s a pittance. The Federal government says we should have enough supply by September for every Canadian who wants one to get a vaccine. But the provinces will need to be able to administer those kinds of volumes. And for that, we need a plan.

A real plan doesn’t mean sitting on your hands (or on your doses) and whining that the federal government isn’t supplying them quickly enough. It means getting ahead of the supply by setting up a real plan. This needs to include:

  • Distribution networks — we’ll need large mass vaccination sites in cities, like arenas or parks. We’ll need smaller, decentralized places, like pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and CLSCs.
  • Personnel to administer the vaccine. We have a major shortage of nurses, but we need to recruit and train anyone who can help — pharmacists, doctors, medical students, dentists, paramedics, heck, I’ve even heard talk of veterinarians. We’ll need to be able to deliver half a million vaccinations per week, which means we need to recruit and train tens of thousands of extra personnel right now, not later, when the vaccines arrive.
  • Safety protocols for distribution — PPE for those administering it, ventilation in the clinics, open-air and drive-through clinics — to ensure that the clinics themselves don’t become superspreader events. Immunocompromised or highly vulnerable people will need heightened safety protocols at these clinics, and their needs must be taken into account as well.
  • Creating a registry system and pre-registering literally everyone in Quebec. We can ask them for their health information, age and other relevant info, and assign them to a priority number based on this criteria. That way, when we start vaccinating a given group, we’ll be able to notify people when it’s their turn, and also get back in touch when it’s time for their second dose.
  • Establish a vaccination record certificate, wallet card, etc. for the inevitable post-pandemic period when it will become a passport back to some semblance of regular life. The CDC is already doing this in the US, and provinces such as BC and Ontario have a system in place. Quebec has no clue.


Tenants are struggling with lockdown after lockdown. Federal income supports are inadequate in many cases and are drying up in others. In the first phase of the lockdown last spring, we temporarily halted evictions. We need to re-implement this freeze, and also freeze rent increases to prevent greedy landlords from throwing vulnerable tenants out onto the streets in the middle of a pandemic.


Ontario passed a law capping the percentage fees that restaurant delivery apps like SkipTheDishes or UberEats can charge to restaurants. Restaurant owners are going into their fourth month of dining room closures in many cases, and are forced to rely on takeout and delivery to survive. The curfew is further cutting into their takeout business. Delivery apps charge up to 30% of the fees, making it impossible for restaurants to survive.

When asked about this at Monday’s press conference, Francois Legault stumbled around for a while before incoherently rambling about how the fees are “what someone is willing to pay”, showing he neither understands nor cares how they work or what their impact is on small business owners. Meanwhile, Montreal restaurants are resorting to lawsuits because the Quebec government has been unwilling to take action.

Montreal is a city with a world class reputation for its restaurants. If we want any of them to survive this pandemic, we need to be able to support them in a way that allows them to still earn enough to get by.


Month 10 of this pandemic and most of us have reached our breaking point, mentally speaking. We’re drained and depressed from being isolated and cut off from the people we love, all while struggling to survive. Compliance with the rules is at an all-time low, right at the moment when it’s critical to keep them higher.

It would really help if we allowed some small scale outdoor, distanced meetups. We know that COVID doesn’t easily spread outdoors. If people are masked and maintaining 6 feet of distance, outdoor meetups are extremely low risk. Going for a walk with a friend, seeing a parent or loved one in a park, all of these could help us stay connected and sane, and will cut down on illegal (and far more dangerous) indoor gatherings. It will also reduce unnecessary policing, allowing us to direct resources elsewhere.

By providing people with some less risky ways to socialize, we can cut down on riskier social contacts. Harm reduction is important. Especially when many of us haven’t seen our families or friends in many months.


Homelessness, always a problem in our cities, has skyrocketed since the pandemic started. People lost their jobs, lost their homes, many with mental health issues or substance abuse problems got worse. Tent cities sprung up over the spring and summer, with thousands of people taking to the parks and streets.

Now that it’s winter and there’s a curfew, our homeless population is once again extremely vulnerable. The curfew unfairly targets them, with Legault’s extremely tone-deaf remark that the homeless should just “go inside” and that there’s “enough space in shelters” (there isn’t, and anyway, many homeless people consider shelters unsafe for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to the higher risk of catching COVID in an indoor crowded facility).

Homelessness is a societal problem. We urgently need to invest in societal solutions. Providing long term housing (not just shelters), social workers, income support, and compassion rather than policing, are all needed. The homeless population and those who work with them should also be prioritized for vaccination. After all, a society’s worth can be determined by how we treat our most vulnerable members.


Depression and anxiety have spiralled out of control in 2020 and are getting worse in 2021. We’re ten months into this with no end in sight. People have lost their jobs, homes, businesses, families. They can’t see the people they care about. They can’t plan for the future. They’ve had their entire lives ripped away. People’s coping mechanisms, from travel to sports to hobbies to social gatherings, are banned. Even religious institutions are closed, which is tough on people who take comfort in their faith.

Everyone, from children to seniors, is suffering.

The mental health resources available to anyone but the wealthy have always been woefully inadequate. Waiting lists for the public s system can be measured in years, not weeks. Few people have the thousands of extra dollars needed for private therapy.

This is a government responsibility. If we don’t address it now, we’ll be paying more heavily for it later.
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