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Covid case counts decline as Legault concedes need to live with virus

BY Ben Powless Feb 28, 2022

Cree health authorities are sounding optimistic about the pandemic. Cree Board of Health and Social Services Vice-Chair Christine Petawabano said in a radio address that, “Things continue to improve in Eeyou Istchee. The number of active cases is declining, which means communities can consider lowering more restrictions.” 

With just under 200 active cases in mid-February, the total number of those infected in Eeyou Istchee since the inception of the outbreak was approaching 2,000, with 1,765 having recovered. A total of 26 people had been hospitalized, with six still in the hospital. 

Mistissini had the highest number of active cases, at 82, followed by Chisasibi, with 52. They were followed by Waskaganish at 24 and Ouje-Bougoumou at 23. The rest had under 10 cases, with only Nemaska having no known active cases. 

With the lowered infection rate, Eeyou Istchee was no longer being considered an area of risk, though specific measures may remain in individual communities. Mistissini remained in Phase 1 of deconfinement, prohibiting all indoor and outdoor gatherings and intercommunity travel except for essential reasons.

Chisasibi and Waskaganish were in Phase 2, allowing indoor and outdoor gatherings of a maximum of two households, while intercommunity travel is not recommended. The remaining communities were in an “adapted version” of Phase 3, allowing a maximum of three households for indoor and outdoor gatherings, with intercommunity travel at the discretion of local Public Safety officials. 

For those who take rapid tests at home and test positive, Cree Public Health is asking that they inform their local Public Safety Officer and isolate for 10 days. Isolation includes those who are close contacts of a positive case, even if they test negative. People who test positive are still asked to trace their contacts, with information available on creehealth.org. 

All regions of Quebec outside of Region 10 (Nord-du-Québec) were still considered areas of risk, requiring mandatory self-isolation upon return, while other local requirements may be in place. For those who don’t follow the mandatory self-isolation protocols, Public Health announced that fines of up to $1,000 for the first offence, and up to $2,000 and $5,000 for further offences, may be incurred. While those under medical self-isolation can’t have their names recorded on public registries, those who violate the protocol can be fined between $1,000 and $6,000 under the Public Health Act.

Hybrid learning between online and in-person instruction began February 1 in Whapmagoostui, Wemindji, Eastmain, Nemaska, Waswanipi and Ouje-Bougoumou. Chisasibi began hybrid learning February 8 for high schools and on February 14 in elementary schools. Schools in Waskaganish were online only until February 14. Mistissini’s start date for hybrid education was yet to be determined. 

Across Quebec, hospitalizations declined to 2,095 by February 14, down from a high of 3,140 on January 18. The positive news allowed the Quebec government to move into the next phase of its reopening plan, allowing gyms and spas to open at half capacity, and for sports and recreation activities to resume. 

Premier François Legault said Quebec may soon relax vaccine requirements, following Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s announcement that province would lift its vaccine requirements by March. 

Legault also highlighted a shift in long-term strategy, noting that people are fed up with restrictions, by saying it is time to live with the virus. This accompanied a decree allowing home gatherings without restriction and for restaurants to have a maximum of 10 people per table. 

As of February 21, all businesses have opened at maximum capacity, and places of worship are allowed to either have half capacity or a maximum of 500 people. Beginning February 28, working from home will no longer be mandatory where possible. Bars will also be allowed to open to half capacity. 

Starting March 14, restaurants, bars, dancing and karaoke venues will also be allowed to open to full capacity, alongside large venues like the Bell Centre in Montreal. The government also speculated that mask and vaccine mandates could be lifted at that time. 

by Ben Powless, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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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.