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People wear face masks as they wait to cross a street in Montreal, Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Quebec’s health minister called on Quebecers Friday to avoid all non-essential gatherings with friends and family for 28 days as authorities reported 637 new cases of COVID-19, the highest single-day total since May.

“We’re asking for a month of effort to break the second wave,” Christian Dube told reporters in Quebec City.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s public health director, told Quebecers not to go to parties or to dinners. “If someone invites you for dinner, it’s very nice,” Arruda said, “but in the context of COVID-19, it’s not the time.”

Authorities reported four new deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus Friday, which they said occurred between Sept. 18-23. Hospitalizations increased compared with the prior day by 15, for a total of 199, with 33 patients in intensive care, an increase of two.

Dube said it’s important for Quebecers to realize the province is at the beginning of the second wave of the pandemic and that people’s actions can make a difference.

He pleaded with Quebecers to pick up the phone when health officials call. Health Department employees who are trying to reach people who have been in contact with positive COVID-19 cases have lamented over the past couple of weeks that their calls were often not being answered.

“Please answer the call,” Dube said.

Arruda said the province is increasing the number of contact tracers in Montreal and Quebec City.

There were 229 new cases reported in the Montreal area Friday, bringing the total number of cases in that region to 32,292. The entire Montreal region has now moved into the “orange” alert level – the second highest level in the province’s COVID-19 alert system.

The Quebec City region reported 132 new cases, for a total of 3,483.

Arruda said despite his call for Quebecers to limit their social gatherings, bars and restaurants will stay open – for now. Bars and restaurants aren’t driving the second wave of the contagion, he said.

Dube added that if the government orders bars to close, that decision may incentivize people to gather indoors in private settings, making contact tracing more difficult. Authorities are trying to find a balance, Dube said, that will help contain the virus and allow people to maintain a sense of normalcy.

Quebec continues to increase COVID-19 testing, with 36,060 tests administered on Wednesday, the last day for which testing data is available.

The province has reported a total of 70,307 COVID-19 infections and 5,814 deaths attributed to the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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