MONTREAL — Montreal is tackling the difficult issue of helping the city’s homeless stay hygienic and isolated in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of Friday afternoon, there are 31 cases of COVID-19 in Montreal, but those numbers are expected to increase this afternoon, said Dr. Mylene Drouin, director of Montreal public health. Two people are currently in intensive care in local hospitals.
Most cases are still related to people who had travelled, said Drouin, but there are some clusters within families, schools, student residences, one long-term care facility and two cases from a wedding that occurred in Montreal this week. Hundreds of people who attended the wedding are currently in isolation.
Both Drouin and Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante made a special plea to religious groups of all denominations, imploring them not to gather at this time.
“It is very important that you stop right now your gatherings,” said Drouin, adding that from experience in other countries, religious groups are important vectors leading to outbreaks. “Please follow the order.”
The City of Montreal is making toilets with running water available in downtown areas for the homeless population. They are also ensuring those living on the streets as well as groups that work with the homeless get access to sanitary supplies including soap and wipes.
In addition, the shelter at the former Royal Victoria Hospital will be transformed into an isolation unit for the homeless if and when people contract the illness. Those who currently use the shelter will be relocated to other locations.
“Anyone who has access to a bed right now will have access to a bed in the new location,” said Plante.
Julie Grenier of regional health board the CIUSSS Centre-Sud de l’Île de Montréal called on organizations that provide support to the homeless to continue doing their important work. Montreal public health will reach out to these organizations to offer support and services to ensure continuity of services.
“I really want to thank all employees and all volunteers who work in the different centres,” added Plante, calling it “important, essential” work.
To that end, the city called on the province to consider work to help the homeless an essential service, thereby giving those workers access to free daycare during the pandemic. The province has obliged.
City officials are reminding people that physical distancing remains essential at this time.
“Do not go get your nails done, do not go get your hair done, do not go to the mall,” said Drouin.
Plante said people should go outside, get some fresh air and enjoy the outdoors, but should do so while respecting the guidelines.
“It is essential in fact that we not gather anywhere, inside or outside,” she said. “It is not the time to gather together. It is the time to follow the recommendations. We need to stop gathering.”