MONTREAL - The president of the union representing teachers at Quebec's English-language schools says she's worried as public health authorities close more schools due to outbreaks linked to suspected cases of coronavirus variants.

Public health officials in Laval, Montreal's largest suburb, said Monday that they have detected suspected cases of coronavirus variants at four schools in the city.

At least 10 schools across the province have been fully or partially closed because of suspected cases of variants. The majority are in the Montreal area, though one school in Quebec City and another in the Abitibi region have also been closed.

Heidi Yetman, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, said in an interview Monday that she's worried teachers will get sick. She'd like to see reduced class sizes to allow for distancing, portable ventilation in classrooms and more use of rapid tests.

"Those three things I think, could make things a lot better," Yetman said.

Yetman said she'd also like to see teachers moved up on Quebec's vaccination priority list.

Dr. Marie-Pascale Pomey, a professor at the Universite de Montreal's school of public health, said rapid tests can be useful anywhere where the same group of people is regularly in close contact -- as is the case in schools.

Rapid tests can act a tool to prevent the virus from spreading in schools because they allow public health authorities to act more quickly when cases are detected, she said.Rapid tests are most useful when a specific group can be followed over time, because they allow quick detection of people who become positive.

"That's what we're looking for, people who change status, who are negative and become positive," Pomey said. "That alerts us to the fact that they are potentially at risk of transmitting the virus."

While Pomey said she thinks schools should stay open in general, she'd also like to see teachers be vaccinated quickly.

Quebec's government-mandated public health institute said Monday that 86 more suspected cases of coronavirus variants have been detected in the province, for a total of 415 suspected cases. Quebec has confirmed 23 cases.

Meanwhile, 23 residents and at least five staff members at a long-term care centre in Gatineau, Que., have tested positive for COVID-19. It is the most serious current outbreak in a long-term care centre in the province.

Dr. Carol McConnery, a medical adviser to the regional public health authority, said most residents of the facility have received a single dose of vaccine, which appears to be protecting them from severe illness.

"The patients are not sick, very few symptoms, no transfers to hospital care," she said. "We know with measles, with mumps, with influenza, that vaccinated people can get infected anyway but do not develop the complication, and that's what we're seeing."

The number of cases at the Lionel‐Emond facility is rising rapidly. As of Sunday there were eight confirmed cases, all of which had been detected within the previous 24 hours.

Earlier Monday, Quebec reported 805 new cases of COVID-19 and 11 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including two within the previous 24 hours.

Health officials said hospitalizations rose by three, to 689, and 117 people were in intensive care, a drop of two.

The province said it administered 7,396 doses of vaccine Sunday, for a total of 353,894 shots to date.

The majority of new COVID-19 infections reported Montreal were in Montreal, with 416 new cases, followed by the Monteregie south of Montreal with 109 and Laval with 97.

Quebec has reported a total of 282,927 COVID-19 infections and 10,318 deaths linked to the virus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2021.

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

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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