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Huge Line-Ups Form After Health Officials Urge Bar Clients, Workers to Get COVID-19 Tests

The reopening of bars in greater Montreal continues to be a debacle

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Behold: the longest line I’ve ever seen. #covidtesting

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Thousands of Montrealers have been lining up for COVID-19 tests this week, after public health authorities recommended testing anybody who set foot in a bar since July 1.

Authorities made the recommendation on Saturday afternoon, after a number of coronavirus cases surfaced among people who had visited bars since Canada Day.

Bars that have registered cases included:

However, public health authorities are urging blanket testing for any bar-goers, regardless of whether they visited these venues or any others linked to COVID-19 cases. All bar workers are also recommended to get tested.

Since the mass-testing of bar patrons and staff began, 45 cases of COVID-19 connected to bars have been detected (as of Wednesday), stemming from 14 bars. Not all bars connected to coronavirus cases have been named.

Given that Montreal has more than 2,000 bars (although not all have reopened after the coronavirus lockdown), it’s not surprising that there was a crush of demand at the city’s nine no-appointment-required COVID-19 test sites, with long lines appearing almost immediately after the testing recommendation was announced.

The Hôtel-Dieu testing site on the Plateau has been particularly swamped — the above video shows the lineup on Tuesday, which stretches across the hospital’s parking lot on St-Urbain, out and along Avenue des Pins, and then up Parc to at least the edge of Jeanne-Mance Park. While the line was spaced out to allow for social distancing, the Gazette reports that some people still waited as long as five hours to be tested.

The mammoth lines prompted mayor Valérie Plante to criticize the provincially-run public health authorities for urging all bar-goers to be tested without dedicating substantial extra resources for testing, although she noted that she was “pleased and very proud” to see so many citizens volunteer to wait so long for testing.

While three new testing sites opened this week (in Outremont, Ahuntsic, and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve), Plante said that more sites are still needed, and she has reportedly offered up the city’s mobile testing units (converted city buses) to help with the testing. Those buses are currently not in use, due to the far lower number of coronavirus cases in the past few weeks.

With rising COVID-19 case numbers among younger Montrealers and the latest cases connected to bars, it seems that the province’s approach to reopening bars has been rather disorganized.

Firstly, bars in Montreal were given practically no notice when they were given the right to reopen on June 25, meaning some venues may have reopened their doors without proper precautions. This is a major contrast with restaurants, who were given two weeks’ notice prior to their reopening date.

Problems arose soon after the reopening, when videos of overcrowded bars and clubs in the city surfaced, forcing the government to arrange for more inspections of bars (since then, one bar in St-Jérôme has been shut down for not following social distancing protocol). The province also mandated that bars close at midnight, instead of 3 a.m., as was originally required.

Then, there’s the issue of capacity. Bars are permitted to operate at 50 percent of their regular capacity — a rule that seems odd, considering that typically more spacious offices (allowed to open as of this weekend) are still capped at 25 percent.

It’s not a given that bars will stay open at all, though: Premier Francois Legault has said that he’s still open to closing them down again, should the COVID-19 situation worsen.