Quebec prides itself on being distinct from the rest of Canada. Usually it’s because of its history, language, culture and heritage. Now, unfortunately, it’s because it has the worst COVID-19 outbreak in Canada. No other province comes close.
It has more than half of all infections in the country, as well as more than half of the deaths to date, even though the province has 22 per cent of the population. Because Quebec has so many infections and deaths, its tally can overshadow the situation in the rest of the nation. For instance, Ontario has the second-largest number of cases, yet that accounts for just 30 per cent of all cases in the nation, even though the province has 39 per cent of the population. And its own death toll, largely because of its own serious problem with COVID-19 outbreaks in its long-term care facilities, is 35.6 per cent of Canada’s total.
Maclean’s has separated out the Quebec data from that of the rest of Canada. (The value of the exercise can be seen in the New York Times’s separation of data from America’s COVID-19 epicentre, New York City, which puts the situation in the rest of the U.S. in perspective.) The differentiation highlights trends that would normally be hidden in national data. For instance, not only is it rare for the daily count of COVID-19 deaths in Quebec to be lower than the rest of Canada, but when those deaths are compared on a “per 100,000 population” basis to equalize for the population disparities, the gap between Quebec and the rest of the nation becomes a gaping chasm.
The province’s long-term care and seniors facilities have been so hard hit by outbreaks that the government needed help from the military. Officials say there is a shortage of about 10,000 workers, many in its long-term care facilities. The situation seems to be getting worse, not better. As CBC reports, its policy of sending staff from one facility to plug short-staffing holes in others due to outbreaks may have spread the virus to even more establishments and their vulnerable residents. One such facility, Centre d’hébergement Denis-Benjamin-Viger in LaSalle, had no COVID-19 cases until personal support workers and nurses were sent to help another facility with COVID-19 infections. Then, the CBC reports, residents at Denis-Benjamin-Viger began testing positive, with 31 of 124 having the infection as of Tuesday. “We were not contaminated at the time. We didn’t have any positive cases, yet our bosses were forcing, outright forcing, our employees to go,” one aide who got infected told the CBC. “The girls were crying. They didn’t want to go.”
Yet there is hope in the “Quebec vs. the rest of Canada” charts. Both have remarkably similar percentage daily increase rates since April 1 (in late March, Quebec combined its confirmed and probable cases, which caused its numbers to temporarily soar to a 60-plus per cent increase). Though the raw numbers are bad, the rate of increase is going in the right direction: down.