A summer under surveillance in Charente-Maritime


La Rochelle, Sablonceaux

From our special correspondent

Commander Laurent Mignot glances worriedly at his smartphone. As every day, the firefighter consults the incidence rate of Covid in his department. And like every day since mid-July, it’s not good. “Today, Charente-Maritime is at 365 cases per day per 100,000 inhabitants, he indicates. This is more than in March 2020. ” And much more than the rate observed on July 19 (145), at the origin of a prefectural decree restoring the wearing of the obligatory mask outside in 46 communes of the department.

If Commander Mignot scrutinizes the figures, it is because he is one of the linchpins of screening in Charente-Maritime. Since March, he has been leading a team of mediators, young volunteer firefighters and nurses trained in performing antigen tests. Party rooms, market places, shopping centers… The small group travels around the department armed with its diagnostic kits.

“In all, we tested 11,245 people, including 74 positive”, calculates the commander, who communicates his statistics each week to the regional health agency of Nouvelle-Aquitaine and to the prefecture. If the number of contaminations remains modest, more than half of the cases have been detected in recent days. A direct consequence of the arrival of tourists, particularly numerous this year. “For a long time, we were one of the only green points on the map, suddenly, holidaymakers went to the Atlantic coast”, observes Commander Mignot.

As a result, not a day goes by without a restaurant or bar lowering the curtain due to contamination. “About thirty establishments have had to close occasionally, in La Rochelle, Saintes or Rochefort”, reports Stéphane Villain, vice-president of the departmental council. “It is all the more complicated for managers as 19-29 year olds are particularly affected, with an incidence rate of 600. However, it is they who make up most of the seasonal workers, who are already few in number this year”, points out the one who is also mayor of Châtelaillon-Plage, a popular seaside resort in the department.

However, there is no question of giving up the festivities of the summer and the benefits they generate. “Tourism is the main economy of the department”, recalls Stéphane Villain. With its 460 km of coastline and its famous islands – Ré, Oléron… -, the territory is not lacking in attractions. Not to mention its many festivals, to which Commander Mignot’s team now devotes most of its time.

That day, it is in front of the Abbey of Sablonceaux, about sixty kilometers south of La Rochelle, that the volunteers pitch their red tent. About 600 people are expected to attend one of the concerts of the “Un violin sur la ville” festival. Folding chair in one hand, sanitary pass in the other, the public, mostly elderly, comply with the protocol without making a fuss. “On the whole, people are rather disciplined and far-sighted, but they get a little lost in the instructions, which is understandable”, recognizes Commander Mignot.

There are those who did not know that the sanitary pass was necessary to attend the concert; those who did not understand that it was necessary to have received two doses to obtain the document; those still who were not aware of the necessary delay of seven days after the second injection. Nathalie, she received her two doses but forgot her pass at home. “And I can’t download the application on my phone”, confides this Parisian on vacation.

“In addition to helping people, this system prevents contamination”, underlines Commander Mignot. If tonight, all the tests were negative, this was not the case during the Francofolies, from July 13 to 17. ” On the last night, we did more than 700 tests, 11 of which were positive, reports Commander Mignot. Young people who were infected while partying. Imagine what it would have been like if they had returned… ”

Since the establishment of the health pass, screening needs have exploded in the department. “Bars, nightclubs, campsites and even equestrian centers call on us. But the demand is too high, we can’t keep up ”, explains Commander Mignot. Laboratories, too, are overwhelmed and understaffed. “For weeks, we chased people to offer them tests. Today, they are the ones who are chasing us ”, fun Steven, young volunteer firefighter who gave up his vacation.

Test, trace, isolate. The triptych remains relevant, but the local authorities have especially the vaccination in their sights. “Everyone must understand that it is essential and even indispensable”, insists Stéphane Villain. Thus, from the first week of August, a specific team of volunteers will be deployed throughout the department. Close to beaches and major tourist sites, but also in villages far from the 17 vaccination centers located in this territory, following the government instructions of” move towards “.

For now, the urgency is to accelerate the vaccination of professionals affected by the vaccination obligation. Starting with the firefighters themselves. A delicate mission to which the commander’s team tackled earlier in the day, while part of the staff of the department remains very reluctant to this idea. “We are not against vaccines, but we would have preferred to wait, to see what happens”, summarizes the adjutant Guillaume Baumard, of the barracks of Marans. “As a firefighter, you have to be irreproachable”, sweeps Commander Laurent Mignot, for whom the issue of vaccination is first and foremost ” operational “, unvaccinated firefighters risk suspension from September 15. “In addition to the Covid, we need all our staff to intervene in forest fires, traffic accidents …”

In the meantime, the authorities have their eyes riveted on the figures communicated by the hospitals, which could upset the fragile balance between health and economic imperatives. On July 26, 41 people were hospitalized due to Covid in hospitals in the department, including five in intensive care. “For the moment, there is no increase”, reassures Stéphane Villain. But the situation could change overnight, and new measures will be imposed on holidaymakers. Curfew ? ” It’s possible, Commander Mignot advances. The important thing is the safety of the citizens, the prefect does not joke with that. With us, the crisis is now. “

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