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Covid currents shift as second dose of vaccines about to begin

BY Ben Powless Mar 26, 2021

As cases again begin to rise, the Cree Health Board (CHB) is warning about the rise in Covid-19 variants in Quebec and the rest of the country.

Experts worry that Canada may be headed for a third wave, as more contagious variants from the UK, South Africa and Brazil are increasingly detected here. In Ontario, most new cases have been linked to these coronavirus variants.

A variant is suspected for a Wiichihiituwin staff member who tested positive in Val-d’Or. Of the 62 clients identified as contacts, 27 had already returned home to Chisasibi, Nemaska, Waskaganish, Eastmain, Wemindji and Whapmagoostui. All were in preventative isolation. 

As a result, medical appointments to areas of risk are now restricted to emergency and semi-emergency cases. Follow-up medical appointments should be carried out locally as much as possible.

Another outbreak was reported at the Eleonore mine site, northeast of Eastmain. Workers were placed in precautionary self-isolation, as were affected community members. The CHB said it hoped to finish screening members as quickly as possible to ensure the outbreak remains isolated to the mine site. 

By press time, 9,987 people had received a first vaccine dose, representing 75% of those eligible and 47% of the total population of Eeyou Istchee. The CHB said second doses would start March 29. Meanwhile, eligible individuals are still encouraged to get their first dose.

The CHB also announced agreements to vaccinate Cree beneficiaries, staff and students in the Outaouais, Estrie, Abitibi and Montreal regions. 

Wiichihiituwin long-term patients and escorts in Montreal as well as Cree beneficiaries who planned to return to Eeyou Istchee before March 31 were also eligible, and were asked to send an email to 18TCR.ReentryVaccine@ssss.gouv.qc.ca to receive the vaccine at a local vaccination site, which may or may not provide the Moderna vaccine.

The only areas considered safe to visit are Region 10 (Nord-du-Québec), Region 17 (Nunavik) and Region 18 (Eeyou Istchee). Non-essential travel between communities is prohibited except for between Waswanipi, Ouje-Bougoumou and Mistissini, and for residents returning home or children travelling to a parent. 

All communities moved back to Phase 4 of deconfinement, allowing for outdoor gatherings of 150 and indoor gatherings of 50 people. 

Region 10 remained in the orange zone, with a curfew between 9:30 pm and 5 am, a prohibition on indoor and outdoor gatherings including home visits, businesses allowing one person per household and restaurants allowing two adults per group. 

Greater Montreal is still in the red zone, though the curfew there was moved back to 9:30 pm.

The CHB said that it was unlikely that visitors and hunters from southern regions would be exempt from local isolation laws during Goose Break, and recommended hunters refrain from travelling south. People were also advised against using their hunting camps to self-isolate with others or to have visitors from high-risk regions, which was blamed for the outbreak at the beginning of the year. 

The Cree School Board (CSB) said that teachers who travel for Goose Break will be supported in following isolation protocols. Planning was already underway for summer holidays and the next school year, which would include six weeks of vacation in addition to two weeks of self-isolation for any teachers and staff travelling outside of the communities. Further details on Goose Break and summer holiday schedules were to be posted to eeyoueducation.ca this week.

The CSB also stated that it had finished shipments of all laptops to Secondary 4 and 5 students, and anticipated finishing shipments of 2,100 laptops for secondary and adult education students by the end of the week. All youth sector schools returned to fulltime in-class instruction, as did the Sabtuan Regional Vocational Training Centre. 

Across Canada, there were a total of 913,000 reported Covid cases; over 3.5 million people had received a vaccine, while over 22,000 had died. 

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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.