Infected patrons from a coronavirus superspreading event at a karaoke night in a Quebec City bar have transmitted the virus to at least three schoolchildren, illustrating how risky-but-permitted activities can imperil the return to school.
The city’s public-health officials say tests confirmed Wednesday that COVID-19 infected at least 40 adults on Aug. 23 at Bar Kirouac in Quebec City’s lower town. A follow-up investigation has found that bar patrons passed along secondary infections to at least 10 family members, including a total of three students at three schools.
Most Quebec students have gone back to school over the past week. School administrators in Quebec City sent home more than 100 classmates of infected children as a preventative measure. Across the province, news outlets, unions and administrators report at least two dozen cases among Quebec’s nearly one million students and tens of thousands of education staff. Most of the cases appear to be isolated but the government is not yet providing official data.
Quebec City public-health investigators are still trying to confirm how far the virus spread since several infected bar patrons visited at least six other local pubs after the karaoke night. “One infected person went on a grand tour,” said Jacques Girard, the interim provincial director of public health for the Quebec City region. “He painted the town red.”
Officials don’t know precisely how many people were in Bar Kirouac. Owner Lucien Simard estimated that 35 to 40 patrons and one staff member were there.
“The rate of attack, the proportion of positives is significant,” said Dr. Girard, adding that the situation in the bar was an “explosive cocktail.”
Bar Kirouac, a 100-person-capacity establishment with plywood over the front window, is frequented by regulars who mostly know each other. “It’s a big family,” said Mr. Simard, who wasn’t present that night.
Mr. Simard said on karaoke night the singer is meant to remain two metres from other patrons, but the entire crowd often joins in a singalong. “I think that’s what went wrong,” he said, adding that he expects to get fined for failing to make sure his clients were physically distanced and seated, as rules require.
Mr. Simard said he was disappointed that in the aftermath, a couple bar patrons resisted getting tested and continued to go out after warnings that they may be infected.
Dr. Girard said public-health investigators issued orders for one infected client to stay home, which is now being verified by police, and for another to co-operate with the investigation. When asked whether contact tracing was difficult for the 40 cases, Dr. Girard said “Not in this case. They were all at the bar.”
Although karaoke is not banned under Quebec’s COVID-19 regulations, Dr. Girard described it as a high-risk activity. “I wouldn’t do karaoke, personally,” he said. Other provinces such as Ontario and British Columbia have banned karaoke.
Quebec’s Director of Public Health, Horacio Arruda, said the province will consider a karaoke ban. He also described karaoke as a dangerous activity, saying “people get excited, swap microphones, start singing with their friends who want to help them out. Next thing, the droplets are in the air and you are contaminated.”
Widespread bar closings are out of the question for now, Dr. Arruda said. “This is one karaoke event. We want to avoid punishing everyone,” he said.
Dr. Arruda said the province plans to have a tailored approach to a potential second wave of coronavirus, compared with the blanket spring shutdown. “We will not close everything in all of Quebec. We will have a much more surgical approach by activity and region.”
He warned of potential pitfalls as the weather cools, children return to school and adults let their guard down. “Christmas is coming. Halloween is coming. All of these kinds of things will give us the reflex to go back to the way it was before,” he said. “We cannot do things the same way as before.”
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