Thursday, May 13, 2021
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For most, it’s been a very long year since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis

On March 11 last year, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic

If there is one feeling that many people are probably experiencing now more than 12 months after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is perhaps that sometimes a year can feel more like a decade (or even a century) when you’re trying to cope with the stresses and inconveniences from a global health emergency like this.

Although the impact of the pandemic didn’t begin to be felt in Canada and Quebec until at least February last year, globally it had started in January when the first grim reports emerged from China.

There, what had previously seemed unimaginable was actually happening: complete curfews and lockdowns, bringing life in that part of the the world to a complete halt. And yet, soon afterwards, that haunting scenario would become part of our lives.

While the first known case of COVID-19 in Canada (a man returning from China) was reported on Jan. 29 last year, it would only be on Feb. 27 that Quebec’s first known case was reported: a woman from Montreal who returned from Iran with COVID-19 symptoms.

March 2020

On March 11 last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 (which had initially been regarded as a health crisis) to be a full-blown global pandemic.

And so it was that on March 14 last year, the Quebec government officially declared a public health emergency across the province. As part of the first measures, Quebec asked seniors over the age of 70 to stay home to prevent spread, while hospitals and seniors’ residences were declared closed to visitors.

In one of the first local acknowledgments of the outbreak, one of the Laval News’s March issues carried an announcement from the City of Laval that it was following the example of the federal and provincial governments and putting into place new measures to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

On March 14 last year, the Quebec government officially declared a public health emergency

“The health and security of our citizens and our employees are fundamental,” said Mayor Marc Demers. “The city will be making all the necessary efforts at its various facilities. The goal is to limit as best possible the spread of the virus. For that, the city will be cooperating narrowly with the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux (CISSS) de Laval. Be assured that that we are following the situation from very close.”

Given the ease with which fraudsters take advantage of people today, it wasn’t long before the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s national anti-fraud division was warning people across the country about an increasing number of scam attempts being made by fraud artists taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis.

The RCMP said everyone should think very seriously before deciding to share personal information with a stranger over the phone, or by clicking on one of the many COVID-19 links that have popped up on the internet.

In an editorial on the COVID-19 pandemic published by the Laval News around this time, we observed that for the Trudeau Liberal government, COVID-19 was without a doubt the steepest challenge it faced since first being elected in 2015.

“After five years of almost unrestrained spending, justified by the belief that a strong economy will pay for the rising mountain of debt, the Liberals now face a gargantuan bill for COVID-19 measures as well as for the resulting economic fallout,” we said.

With the economic fallout of the pandemic becoming all too apparent early on last year, Canada’s largest lobby group for small and medium businesses reacted favourably to measures introduced the Plante administration in the City of Montreal to offset the impact – while warning that tough times lay ahead before recovery.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said it agreed with a statement made by Quebec Premier François Legault that part of the economic hardship would be the almost unavoidable loss of the most vulnerable businesses in the province.

Quebec Premier François Legault started announcing regulations for dealing with COVID-19 in March last year.

A theme that emerged early during the onset of the pandemic was that stress would be taking a major toll on people and on society’s overall mental health. As such, the CISSS de Laval was making special psychosocial assistance available to Laval residents who were in need of help for dealing with emotional turmoil brought on by the COVID-19 crisis.

“Pandemics can affect people on a physical basis, but also psychologically,” said Carol Ladouceur, director of mental health and substance abuse recovery programs at CISSS de Laval. “We consider it important, given the current context, that CISSS de Laval offer psychosocial support to the many people who might be experiencing stress, anxiety and depression.”

In order to free up beds at Laval’s Cité-de-la-Santé hospital for expected COVID-19 patients, the CISSS de Laval was renting an entire hotel to accommodate various kinds of patients. Officials at the CISSS said the unidentified hotel had been appropriately refurbished in order to meet medical and security requirements for the patients who would be treated there.

In one of the first signs of serious financial relief to be provided by a government during the pandemic, the City of Laval’s executive-committee announced that it had decided to postpone the date when residential property and business taxes would be due.

“While waiting for compensation measures that will be brought in by the government, residents who are affected by mandatory quarantines or the temporary closings of many businesses will be dealing with a loss of revenue,” said Mayor Marc Demers.

April

By April, the grimmest reality of all during the pandemic was beginning to sink in with rising death tolls at the province’s retirement and long-term care facilities. The CISSS de Laval confirmed the death toll from the COVID-19 virus was rising and out of the control at CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée. It would eventually climb to at least 100 fatalities, before the situation was under control.

As the severity of the situation grew more apparent, the Quebec government was calling on the organizers of public events over last summer to cancel or postpone at least until Aug. 31 because of the ongoing COVID-19 situation.

“The government of Quebec has had to make a difficult but necessary decision,” Quebec Tourism Minister Caroline Proulx said. “We are aware of the impacts this represents for organizers, and we thank them for their contribution to the collective effort. We will be there to prepare a strong recovery in order to see Quebec and its festivities shine brightly a soon as possible.”

The province’s announcement came after Mayor Marc Demers had stated during the April city council meeting that he preferred to wait until May before deciding whether to cancel Laval’s Fête nationale celebration and the more than $600,000 expense it entailed. In the end, he would decide to follow the government’s recommendation.

Also in April, Quebec’s director-general for public health, Horacio Arruda, ordered an inquiry by his department into the high rate of infection and mortality at the CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée, as well as at other health institutions in the province where there have been severe outbreaks of COVID-19 infection. Hearings for that inquiry have yet to begin, as they were postponed until this autumn.

Despite the overall negative perspective during the pandemic, there were some brighter spots at least. COVID-19 crisis or not, demolition of the old and abandoned Récréathèque in Laval’s Chomedey district was started in April last year to make way for an eight-storey, 347-unit residential building. Construction of the new project is now well underway.

By April last year, the Canadian Armed Forces’ Joint Task Force East (JTFE) had responded to a request for assistance dispatched medically-trained military personnel to the Montreal region to assist at nearly a half-dozen long-term care residences struggling with COVID-19 – including a CHSLD in the Laval area.

The MSSS had identified long-term care centres (CHSLDs) as institutions requiring the most assistance. CHSLD Villa Val des Arbres on Saint-Martin Blvd. East in Laval was among the care centres selected for assistance.

Still in April, the son of an elderly woman who was among the many people who died of COVID-19 at CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée in Laval was seeking permission from a Quebec court to file a class action lawsuit against the long-term care residence.

Jean-Pierre Daubois, whose mother Anna José Marquet died at the age of 94 on April 3 after she contracted COVID-19 at the CHSLD, filed initial paperwork in Quebec Superior Court for the suit against CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée. The suit named CISSS de Laval, the regional health authority that oversees the residence on Samson Blvd. in Laval’s Sainte-Dorothée neighbourhood.

May

By May last year, police forces across the province had campaigns well underway to ticket persons not following social distancing and other COVID-19 sanitary protocols in public places. The Laval Police Department was reporting on its Twitter feed that the force had issued a total of 380 tickets related to COVID-19 infractions, such as non-distancing or gathering in groups, up to the first week of May.

The Laval Police Department’s community relations department said LPD officers were advised to evaluate each situation after intervening and question those persons they suspected were not obeying the rules, following which tickets could be issued. Those tickets start at $1,000 (plus $550 processing fees) and increased for repeat offenses.

Also in May last year, the City of Laval’s Place Bell multipurpose arena and entertainment venue was called into service to take in an overflow of COVID-19-infected patients who could not be accommodated at the region’s Cité de la Santé hospital, the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux (CISSS) de Laval confirmed.

The action was taken as the number of COVID-19 infections across the province showed few signs of slowing, while the government of Premier François Legault continued efforts towards reopening the economy after two months of strict lockdown measures to keep the coronavirus infection from spreading.

The CISSS de Laval reported that as of Monday May 11, 387 persons in Laval had died of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, while there were 4,233 confirmed cases of infection, 128 people in hospital, 23 people in intensive care, and 1,739 persons who recovered.

June

Citing an economic prediction made by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Quebec International Relations Minister Nadine Girault told an online gathering of members of the Laval Chamber of Commerce and Industry that the year 2020 could see the worst global recession since the 1929 crash and the Great Depression that followed it.

Girault maintained that the recession stood to be worse than the 2008 downturn, because this time it wouldn’t be only a financial crisis, “but a crisis that concerns a real economy,” she said.

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces’ 4 Health Services Group were deployed to Laval last year to help deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

As we announced in June, homeless people in Laval, who were left largely without anywhere to stay since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, gained a measure of security with an announcement by the CISSS de Laval of the opening of a temporary shelter at the Place des Aînés in Chomedey.

The CISSS was sponsoring the shelter, which opened on June 3 in the senior citizens’ community centre on Curé Labelle Blvd. which remained closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new site replaced a homeless shelter that was being operated at the Centre Josée-Faucher in Laval-des-Rapides.

Professors Nicolas Doucet and Yves St-Pierre of the Laval-based Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) were contributing their expertise in structural and cell biology to the race for a vaccine against COVID-19.

In partnership with Glycovax Pharma, a company with operations also in Laval, the two researchers were evaluating the feasibility of a vaccine strategy targeting carbohydrate molecules located on the surface of the coronavirus Spike protein.

July

With a high wind of optimism blowing through its sails, the City of Laval is moving ahead this week with a sweeping new economic development strategy designed to give a badly needed boost to the city’s waning economy in the uncertain aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dubbed ‘Laval, capital of opportunities’ by the Demers administration, the primary focus of the campaign is to provide support to entrepreneurs and business owners during the economically-challenged post-pandemic period.

In a statement issued by the City of Laval prior to Demers’ official presentation of the policy during the July city council meeting, city officials acknowledged that Laval has been as impacted by the fallout from COVID-19 as any other municipality in Quebec or around the world.

Months after being forced to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the province’s movie theatres were reopening – albeit only briefly before being ordered shut again. They had new rules that limited the number of viewers to 50 per screening room in multiplex cinemas.

It was no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic forced the shutdown of a good number of major film productions since the beginning of the year. As such, the selection of movies in theatres was expected to be much slimmer than it would normally be at the time of year.

August

While some of Canada’s leading economists were suggesting Ottawa wouldn’t be able to deal with a second wave of COVID-19 with the same financial largesse it had had previously, federal Economic Development Minister Melanie Jolie told the Laval News the Liberal government was well positioned to continue along the path it had been on since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We’re in the best position and we still have firepower in terms of fiscal capacity,” she said

While everyone at the federal, provincial or municipal levels seems to be talking about economic recovery during the pandemic, the Laval Chamber of Commerce and Industry believed the local business community needed to understand what help was available in order to seize the opportunities offered by the three levels of government.

That at least was a leading point offered by the LCCI prior to an online Zoom video forum they sponsored on post-COVID-19 recovery efforts. Among the many elected officials who took part were Quebec Finance Minister Éric Girard who is also Minister Responsible for Laval.

“In five years, we will have returned to a balanced budget,” Girard pledged during the exchange. On a more somber note, he added that “we will have to live according to our means, that is with a level of expenses in conjunction with the revenues of the government.”

Elementary school students in Quebec from the fifth grade up would be required to wear protective face masks, although they would be allowed to take them off in classrooms, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge announced.

In addition to the senior elementary school students, the mask requirement would also apply to high-schoolers, as well as older students enrolled in vocational or adult training programs, in hallways and while walking around commons areas in schools.

September

With uncertainty abounding over the prospects of a second wave of COVID-19, the Director of Public Health for Quebec joined public health officials in Laval to state that the province and the region would be well-prepared should there be a resurgence of the pandemic in the fall.

“COVID-19 posed considerable challenges,” interim assistant director-general of the CISSS de Laval Geneviève Goudreault said during a press conference covered in one of our September issues. It was attended by Quebec Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda, and reported on progress made by the regional health agency in its efforts to deal with the pandemic.

“Laval was one of the regions most affected in the number of cases and the number of deaths per 100,000 residents,” said Goudreault. “We had to adapt our practices and assign our employees so as to respond to the emergency. We learned lessons from this first wave and have established our plan to be ready when the second wave manifests itself.”

Concerned that Quebec might one day be unable to import essential foods like fruits and vegetables during a crisis like the current COVID-19 pandemic, Premier François Legault said during an online CAQ policy discussion this month that the government hoped to launch a major greenhouse farming project, with power provided by Quebec’s vast hydro electric network.

“For me, one the great fears I had as I was trying to reassure everyone last March was that we would not be able to import fruits and vegetables during the crisis,” he said in a keynote address delivered during the event, alluding to the start of the COVID-19 crisis.

October

A provincial investigative report completed last but only released by Quebec in October on the reasons behind the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée laid the blame on technical shortcomings as well as a lack of personnel at the long-term care facility.

The report on CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée was tabled by Minister for Senior Citizens and Caregivers Marguerite Blais and Health and Social Services Minister Christian Dubé, together with another report on the even more devastating outbreak which took place around the same time last year at the Herron private residence for seniors in Dorval.

Both Blais and Dubé insisted that, after the revelations about the devastation from COVID-19 that was taking place at the two residences became known, government and health authorities had already begun to take action so there would be no repeated situations.

More than 100 fatalities from COVID-19 were recorded at CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée by the middle of last summer, ranking the residence among the hardest-hit in the province during the ongoing pandemic.

The Quebec government announced additional protective measures for schools, sports facilities and teams in the province’s “red” zones – including Laval – which would be in place beginning Oct. 8 until at least Oct. 28. Wearing a face mask became mandatory at all times for students attending high-schools located in the red zones, including inside classrooms and outdoor areas.

“Today we are announcing an important reinforcement of the existing sanitary measures, as well as the deployment of additional measures, for school establishments located in red zones,” said Education Minister Jean-François Roberge.

Laval mayor Marc Demers announced that the city would be freezing taxes in the 2021 budget for residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural property owners. The move came after the City of Montreal and other Quebec municipalities previously announced they were freezing their property taxes in order to soften the COVID-19 economic on property owners.

November

With the COVID-19 pandemic limiting public gatherings, the City of Laval launched a new kind of public consultation process this month on its urban planning rules using a computerized platform to stage a “virtual open house.”

Federal Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino tabled the Trudeau government’s latest Immigration Levels Plan, setting a path for moderate increases to immigration to help the Canadian economy recover from COVID-19, while also trying to stimulate future business and employment growth.

“Immigration is essential to getting us through the pandemic, but also to our short-term economic recovery and our long-term economic growth,” said Mendicino. “Canadians have seen how newcomers are playing an outsized role in our hospitals and care homes, and helping us to keep food on the table.

The Société de transport de Laval (STL) was presented on Nov. 5, during an online “virtual gala,” with the Association québécoise des transport’s Grand Prix d’Excellence en Transport award hosted by the AQTR for the STL’s online tool that tells riders how crowded their bus could be.

The digital tool provided riders with an estimate of the number of passengers they could expect not only when they board, but also during the course of their entire bus trip – which is a first in Canada. As the COVID-19 pandemic made social distancing in public transit situations a core concern for everyone, the crowd estimator supplied information tailored to individual transit users.

In spite of infection rates rising again during the second phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, Quebec Premier François Legault delivered a message of hope to members of the Coalition Avenir Québec and to all Quebecers during a webcast CAQ policy convention.

In a keynote speech to CAQ members during the event Nov. 7, Legault said the government remained focused on restoring and expanding the province’s economy. But at the same time, he suggested there might be economic advantages to be gained despite the pandemic.

With flu season threatening to complicate the COVID-19 situation, on Nov. 6 and 11 the Agape charitable organization provided flu shots to approximately 117 seniors at the Senior Wellness Centre in Laval in its latest effort to promote the health and well-being of Laval’s English-speaking language minority community.

“This was such an important event for us,” said Kevin McLeod, executive director at Agape. “This would never have been possible if it weren’t for our local partners at the 24-hour Pharmaprix close to our centre. When we approached pharmacist-owners Issam Merrouni, Mohamed Suhel Jetha and Mahmoud El-Achkar, they were very excited about the idea, stating that they wanted to give back to the community.”

December

An inquiry by the Quebec Coroner’s Office was expected get underway into the circumstances that led to a seemingly uncontrolled outbreak of COVID-19 at CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée during the first wave in the spring last year of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a media report, the CISSS de Laval sent a memo to CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée employees, advising them that the inquiry was about to get underway.

There were more than 100 fatalities from COVID-19 at the CHSLD during the pandemic’s first wave – well above the norm at most other similar facilities in the province. In addition to the coroner’s investigation, a class-action lawsuit was launched.

There were at least 100 COVID-19 fatalities at CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée during the pandemic’s first wave, far higher than the norm at similar institutions across Quebec.

In the memo to employees, the CISSS said they could soon be asked to sit and be interviewed by Sûreté du Québec investigators and that they might wish to be accompanied by legal counsel when this took place.

The CISSS pointed out to the employees that not all information could necessarily be shared with the SQ as it might be considered confidential and privileged under medical ethics rules. The inquiry has since been postponed to later this year.

In keeping with a pledge announced in October by Mayor Marc Demers, the average residential property owner in Laval wouldn’t be getting a tax increase in 2021, according to the city’s latest annual budget which was tabled during a webcast from Laval city hall on Dec. 7.

With the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic probably on most people’s minds, the city decided to increase the economic development department’s budget by a whopping 26 per cent in order to help revive the impacted economy.

As part of the increase, the city also allotted $20 million as a sort of economic development contingency fund to meet additional needs should they suddenly manifest themselves, and as might become the case during these unpredictable times.

January 2021

As the second year of the pandemic was dawning, planning for a future with COVID-19 was getting underway, Among the questions being raised: What role would women entrepreneurs be playing in the revival of the Canadian economy when the pandemic is finally over?

That was the big issue raised during a webcast discussion between federal Minister for Small Business Mary Ng, Vimy MP Annie Koutrakis and a dozen women entrepreneurs from Laval and other cities, on advancing women’s economic empowerment while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are all aware of the disproportional impact that the pandemic has had on women across the country,” said Koutrakis, noting that a large proportion of Canada’s population of women work in sectors of the economy that have been most affected.

At the same time, she pointed out that many women have been forced by work obligations during the pandemic to make difficult choices, such as choosing between a career or temporarily putting aside responsibilities towards children and family.

For her part, Minister Ng highlighted the government’s commitment to helping women grow their businesses and access new markets through the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy, a nearly $5-billion initiative that provides women with access to financing, expertise and networks.

“I often like to say that, you know, my job is to help companies start up, scale up and to enter the market,” she said, while adding that her department offers businesses operated by women tools, such as the services of trade commissioners, in 160 locations around the world.

As part of an ever-evolving roster of rules imposed by Quebec in efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus, police in Montreal and Laval said in January that they were ready to enforce new regulations imposed by the province for a 30-day 8 pm – 5 am curfew, which was subsequently extended and is still in force.

Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault said she was counting on police officers across the province to “act diligently” and use their judgment in enforcing the measures. She said the government’s goal wasn’t to make people’s lives more difficult, but instead to rein in the minority of Quebecers who are not yet following the rules.

Curfew breakers remain liable to fines ranging from $1,000 to $6,000 (plus hundreds of dollars in court expenses) if they are unable to adequately justify why they are outside the home. Young people 14 years of age and over are subject to a $500 fine.

February

“If you develop symptoms of a respiratory tract infection and if you live with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, unfortunately you almost certainly have it too,” Dr. Stéphanie Susser, medical coordinator for environmental health at the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de Laval, told an online information session for senior citizens organized by Congregation Shaar Shalom in Chomedey.

She said knowledge of COVID-19 is evolving very quickly, and recent studies suggest that a significant proportion of infected people may not exhibit any symptoms at all.

“There is also evidence that people are contagious before the first signs and symptoms appear. This finding has led the government to recommend the precaution of voluntary face coverings to reduce the risk that people with few or no symptoms spread the virus in public places where it’s difficult to stay two metres away from others.”

According to Dr. Susser, the risk of serious complications from COVID-19 increases with age, “but even young people are at risk,” she said.

In spite of a pledge by Quebec Premier François Legault to compensate movie theatre owners for revenue lost after not being allowed to sell snacks when theatres reopened in pandemic red zones on Feb. 26, Cinémas Guzzo owner Vince Guzzo turned down the offer, saying it was not worth the trouble.

Film theatres in Quebec were closed since earlier this year when the provincial government decided to reimpose wide-ranging measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including an 8 pm – 5 am curfew.

Guzzo was adamant that, given the current conditions offered by the province, Cinémas Guzzo would not be reopening on the date proclaimed by Quebec. “I will be waiting for the food restrictions to be removed,” he said.

Martin C. Barry
Martin C. Barryhttp://www.lavalnews.ca
Journalist with the Laval News since 2005. During his 24 years covering political and community issues in the Montreal region, Marty has won numerous journalism awards from the Quebec Community Newspapers Association for written coverage as well as for photography. marty@newsfirst.ca

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