BACK TO CLASS – On May 11, students from Poupore school in Fort-Coulonge returned to class, closed by the Legault government in March. Students were greeted upon arrival by teachers and volunteer firefighters who showed students how to meet the new standards of social distancing and all safety measures. According to director Stéphane Bouchard, 25% of the students went to school. He explains that the teachers created a pleasant experience for their return to the classroom with activities and schoolwork, games, etc. The students quickly adapted to the new measures implemented, concludes Mr. Bouchard.
OUTAOUAIS – The provincial government has been softening restrictions on social gatherings and allowing additional “non-essential” businesses to reopen recently.
On May 20, Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault announced that as of May 22, outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people from three different households were allowed. People must abide by the 2 meter distance rule and wearing a mask is recommended. According to Guilbault, the objective is to find a balance between
physical and mental health.
As of June 1 across Québec, oral care clinics, dental centres, therapeutic care companies (different forms of therapy and counselling, massage, social work, alternative medicine, etc.), and groomers were allowed to reopen as long as they have private entrances. Personal care and aesthetic businesses (salons, beauty services, tattooing, etc.) were able to open on the same date in all regions of Québec except for the Montréal area and Joliette, which will reopen later. Libraries and museums were permitted to open May 29.
Even though physical-distancing measures aren’t possible for many of these services, wearing a mask is not mandatory for clients. However, Québec’s health ministry, public health authorities and la Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) published guidelines outlining how dentists, hairdressers, and other businesses should operate if the 2m distance can’t be respected, which includes wearing a mask and eye protection. Uniforms must be changed after each client in cases where physical contact is necessary (massage therapy, chiropractic care, etc.).
The number of people in waiting rooms must be limited, sharing objects avoided, surfaces disinfected regularly, and barriers installed between work stations that are less than 2 meters apart.
Additional measures are up to each business to determine, which could include requiring clients to wear masks, which is the case for the Pontiac Chiropractic Clinic in Shawville and Mansfield. “I have strict rules to abide by from the College of Chiropractors (24 pages). Staff and I have to wear medical grade masks and replace them often and patients must also wear a mask. I need to wear protective eyewear and change my uniform between every patient too,” said owner Isabelle Gagnon.
“I’m booking extra time between clients to sanitize everything. I’ll do my best to open all doors, and there will be heavier sterilization of instruments,” said Holly Lalonde, owner of Hollywood Salon and Spa in Shawville, noting she has many emotions about reopening.
“I’m excited to get back into my normal schedule, but worried about the restrictions, and sad I won’t be home with my kids now,” she added.
Nicole Jeaurond, owner of Salon The Cutting Edge in Otter Lake, admitted the
circumstances are challenging and she sometimes worries about re-opening. Jeaurond offers both hairdressing and massage therapy.
The new regulations have resulted in additional expenses, like purchasing more capes so only one is used per client before it’s washed. “I’ve ended
up having a much greater overhead cost (signs, extra capes and uniforms, disinfectants, plexi-glass shield at reception, laundry products, etc.) and I will
be at half capacity because of government rules. It’s unfair, but I learn to adapt to different adventures,” she said.
At the dentist, patients will be asked to use an antiseptic mouthwash before procedures.
Partial tourism re-opening
Caroline Proulx, Québec’s Minister of Tourism, announced on May 27 that a portion of the tourism industry would reopen as of June 1: campgrounds, marinas, ZECs (controlled areas), SEPAQs (Society of Outdoor institutions in Québec), outfitters, and cottage and airbnb-like rentals (outside of Montréal).
Those travelling for tourism are asked to remain within Québec, gather all supplies before leaving and to make a direct trip to their destination to limit contacts.
When renting homes, cabins and lodges, the entire unit must be rented to a
single family and bookings will be organized so there’s a 24 hour gap between one group leaving and another arriving.
School enrollment holding steady
Québec reopened elementary schools outside of Montréal on May 11. Although the return rate was fairly low for both MRC Pontiac schools boards, the number of students attending classes the first, second and third week remained fairly stable.
The Commission Scolaire des Hauts-Bois-de-l’Outaouais (CSHBO) witnessed a 32% average return rate in their schools, but for the Petits-Ponts establishments in the Pontiac, only 25% of students returned. The numbers were a lot lower for the Western Quebec School Board (WQSB) which witnessed a 15% re-enrollment rate across the board. Of the 539 students in the WQSB’s four elementary schools in the MRC Pontiac and Municipality of Pontiac, only 63 (12%) were expected to return. However, actual numbers decreased when school began.
The WQSB announced on May 19 how end-of-year evaluations will work. From elementary to secondary III, the final judgment will be a pass or fail based primarily on terms 1 and 2, but work up until March 13 can also be taken into account. For secondary 4 and 5, the final marks will be a percentage based on assignments in the first two terms, and work up until March 13 can be included. In both cases, “evaluations will be based on the teacher’s professional judgment,” said the WQSB.
The WQSB cancelled classes on May 27 because of the extreme heat and COVID restrictions on using fans because they can potentially spread the virus. However, the CSHBO remained open, stating Public Health exceptionally allows fans and air
conditioners in schools during extreme heat periods.
Québec reveals next steps
Premier François Legault revealed the province’s plan for the next steps of de-
confinement on May 25 using a list broken into different phases; we are
currently in the fifth.
The next step, phase six, includes day camps (already reopening), outdoor team sports and pools, the “first phase” of restaurants, and the “second phase” of retail stores, which includes shopping malls outside of the Greater Montréal area. No date has been announced for the beginning of this phase.
Subsequent phases will involve churches, large gatherings, gyms, cruises, restaurants “phase 2” and bars, among others.
As of press time, there were over 51,400 cases of the virus in Québec (4,661 deaths). The Outaouais now has 537 cases (310 recovered) and 18 deaths. The Municipality of Pontiac has <5 cases while the MRC Pontiac has 0. The Outaouais’ first healthcare employee – from CHSLD (Long term care centre) Lionel-Émond in Gatineau – died from COVID on May 28.