MONTREAL — Public health officials are urging anyone who has frequented a bar on the Island of Montreal since Canada Day to get a COVID-19 test after several cases stemming from drinking establishments.
Authorities said Saturday that several bar patrons and employees have tested positive since July 1 in an outbreak involving at least five area bars, despite public health measures put in place ahead of bars reopening in the province.
"I'm afraid these observations only reflect the tip of the iceberg," said Dr. David Kaiser, a doctor with the Montreal public health department. "The pandemic is not behind us, community transmission is still very present in Montreal."
Officials said they have spoken to bar owners and were able to reach some affected people, but not all. It's possible some of those infected people may have gone to other bars.
Kaiser urged anyone starting to develop COVID-19 symptoms or those who've been in contact with someone get screened and tested.
Authorities said they've seen the number of infected people between the ages of 15 and 39 years old rise steadily in recent weeks.
The Quebec government tightened the rules surrounding bars this week, with new rules going into effect on Friday.
Bars and nightclubs can no longer sell alcohol after midnight and are limited to 50 per cent of their legal customer capacity. Customers will need to leave the premises by 1 a.m.
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube said last week that police would be out in bigger numbers and inspectors would ensure bars and nightclubs follow the new rules.
The news came as Quebec reported 91 additional cases of COVID-19 on Saturday from the previous day, pushing the provincial total to 56,407 confirmed cases, along with eight more deaths.
Meanwhile, a second Montreal suburb said it plans to make masks mandatory in indoor public places after a COVID-19 outbreak linked to two house parties grew to about 80 confirmed cases in the Monteregie region this week.
The mayor of Mercier, Que., about 30 kilometres south of Montreal, said in a statement Saturday morning that the town intends to make face coverings mandatory as of July 15.
Lise Michaud said the new rule — which will be adopted at the next municipal council meeting on Tuesday — was agreed to after public health officials "strongly encouraged" wearing masks in indoor public spaces to stem the spread of the virus.
"We need to remember that the most recent outbreak in our region was caused by a private party. It is therefore important to stay vigilant, even when we're staying at home," Michaud said.
The town of St-Chrysostome, Que., where the house parties were held last month, passed a similar rule Friday mandating mask-wearing inside all commercial businesses.
Quebec's public health director, Horacio Arruda, said Friday there was "sufficient data" to link the outbreak to the house parties. Some of the people who attended the parties also later went to a bar on the South Shore of Montreal.
"That means there was community transmission at the parties, then there was more at the bar by people who were contaminated in the parties who didn't have symptoms, or who had mild symptoms," Arruda told reporters in Gatineau, Que.
Health officials also say they believe the parties are connected to a series of infections that forced several businesses to close in Mercier.
Of the deaths reported Saturday, four were new deaths in the past day while four others were deaths that took place before July 3.
Quebec has recorded 5,260 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 11, 2020.
The Canadian Press