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News ᑎᐹᒋᒧᐧᐃᓐ

As Delta variant spreads, Cree health authorities remain optimistic

BY Ben Powless Aug 17, 2021

While acknowledging that Covid cases continue to decline in Canada, the Cree Health Board (CHB) in a statement called the rise of cases in the United States “alarming,” pointing to the Delta variant’s meteoric rise there, despite widespread vaccination. The CHB said it was optimistic that with the success of the vaccination campaign, Eeyou Istchee will hopefully avoid the fourth wave expected to hit Quebec in the fall. 

The CHB noted that health administrations across Quebec, including in Eeyou Istchee, are operating with a shortage of medical staff and other personnel, “making it very important that every effort be made to protect the capacity of our health-care systems.” The lack of staff was blamed for a lower testing capacity in the region.

To speed up second doses for residents over 12 years of age, the CHB was making second doses available within four weeks of the first dose. The announcement came as all communities had managed to fully vaccinate over 54% of the entire population, with the percentage of fully vaccinated people 12 years and up being as low as 66% in Chisasibi and as high as 89% in Wemindji. This was far higher than the Canadian average of 59%. 

Based on these numbers, the Public Health authority of Eeyou Istchee is allowing private indoor gatherings of up to 50 people, and up to 150 people outdoors. Organized events – like weddings, funerals and sporting events – are allowed up to 250 people, depending on the size of the venue. 

Outside of Eeyou Istchee, all of Quebec has returned to “green zone” restrictions, which allow for a maximum of 10 people or three households for any indoor or outdoor gathering. Quebec had managed to administer 11.2 million doses, with 58% of the population fully vaccinated. 

Across Canada, there was an increase of 55% in new cases as the Delta variant gained strength. While Quebec’s overall case count remains low, at an average of 139 new cases per day, that was a large uptick from the previous week, which was only 57. The new positivity rate was back where it had been in May, when the third wave was waning.

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control issued a warning about the Delta variant, suggesting it can spread even among vaccinated people, and can cause more serious symptoms than previous strains. However, vaccinated people are still much less likely to get seriously sick, end up hospitalized or die from the virus. 

The US appears to be in the grips of a fourth wave, as daily case counts of over 85,000 new cases exceeded the third wave in April. Cases increased over 400% in July, as many jurisdictions struggled with low vaccination rates, and even new laws that prohibited any type of masks or social distancing mandates. Florida alone was seeing record hospitalization rates unseen at any previous point during the pandemic.

While the Delta variant represents over 90% of new cases in Ontario, and most cases across Canada, it was only found in 5% of new cases in Quebec.

That news comes as Quebec continues to relax restrictions, announcing that bars and restaurants may now serve alcohol until 1 am and stay open until 2 am. Outdoor stadiums and festivals will be allowed up to 15,000 spectators; up to 7,500 indoors. However, masks and social distancing will still be required. 

As students return to their studies, health specialists are worried that schools may again hasten the transmission of the virus. Meanwhile, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association have both called for vaccinations to be mandatory for health-care workers.

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.