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Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann responds to reporters during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 8, 2020 at the legislature in Quebec City.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec reorganized its hospitals in anticipation of an influx of COVID-19 patients, only to receive fewer sick people than authorities anticipated.

But the novel coronavirus made its way into long-term care facilities, where underlying medical conditions make many elderly residents vulnerable, and the results have been devastating.

“The virus fooled them,” said Marjolaine Aube, president of the union representing workers in long-term care facilities north of Montreal.

One of the hardest-hit centres, Centre d’hebergement Ste-Dorothee in Laval, was reporting more than 115 cases of COVID-19 and 13 deaths as of Wednesday afternoon.

In response, Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann said Wednesday the province will systematically test all residents and staff of long-term care facilities for COVID-19.

Additionally, she said the health network will redeploy hundreds of doctors and nurses from hospitals to the long-term care homes to deal with the outbreak among the sick and elderly.

Quebec has surpassed 10,000 cases of the virus, but significantly fewer people than expected are requiring hospitalization, leaving room to shuffle health-care providers to where they are most needed.

Long-term health facilities account for almost half of the 175 deaths in the province tied to the virus. The Health Department said in an e-mail that as of Wednesday, 813 separate facilities that care for the elderly, such as public and private senior residences and long-term care homes, have at least one confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19.

“We are very concerned with the situation,” McCann said. To the families of people in these residences, McCann said: “We haven’t forgotten you.”

But Aube said Wednesday her union has had to fight to secure proper equipment for its members. “All we are doing is fighting,” she said in an interview. “We spend our days fighting.”

She said the province focused its efforts on preparing hospitals for COVID-19 and neglected long-term care homes. Up until last week, her members, who include orderlies, kitchen staff and other personnel, did not have proper protective equipment. She said patients confirmed to have COVID-19 only started wearing surgical face masks on Monday.

Before then, she said, they were using washable masks that were insufficient to protect the staff and other residents.

Aube said two of her members showed symptoms of COVID-19 at the end of March and were told to keep working at their long-term care centre.

But, Aube said, since her union’s cries for help were picked up by the media, conditions have improved.

Aube said she is trying to get proper personal protective equipment for her members who make house calls. Those employees are still entering people’s homes wearing washable cloth masks.

Of the 10,031 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Quebec, 632 people are hospitalized and 181 are in intensive care.

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