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Eeyou Istchee moves away from confinement protocols as authorities worldwide accept Covid as part of life

BY Ben Powless Mar 13, 2022

Cree health officials announced a sweeping new approach to their Covid policy February 25, moving away from an isolation protocol to a “testing and reduced-activity protocol that will greatly relieve pressure for everyone in Eeyou Istchee,” according to a bulletin. 

“As the world begins to deconfine, remove certain restrictions, and return to a more normal life, Eeyou Istchee is also preparing to deconfine, cautiously, with the health of our population and the conservation of our healthcare networks’ capacity as priorities,” the bulletin continued. 

The new protocol removes the need for mandatory self-isolation required when returning from any area of risk over any duration of time. Instead, only those who are in an area of risk for more than 72 hours will be required to get tested. Those who are fully vaccinated will need to follow the “reduced-activity protocol” for five days, then get tested on Days 3 and 5. Those not fully vaccinated are to follow the “reduced-activity protocol” for 10 days, with tests on Days 3, 5 and 7. 

The reduced-activity protocol allows for individuals to go outdoors, but not enter indoor public places. They may also return to work, wearing masks and protective gear appropriate to their work. They are to refrain from visiting the homes of others or attending any indoor gatherings. For students, their return to school will be determined by Cree School Board protocols. 

Beginning March 11, those who are not fully vaccinated will only need to follow the reduced-activity protocol for one week. Then, on March 25, the reduced-activity protocol will no longer be in effect, with only testing required on Days 3 and 5 instead. Those who test positive are still to undertake mandatory self-isolation. This approach mirrors similar efforts at national and international levels, as jurisdictions worldwide move towards an approach of managing the disease, abandoning efforts to fully stop it. 

The areas considered “at risk” have not changed from February 7, with the entirety of Quebec and the rest of Canada considered at risk, except for Eeyou Istchee and Northern Quebec. Locally, Chisasibi, Mistissini, Ouje-Bougoumou, Waskaganish and Waswanipi were in Phase 3 of deconfinement protocols, allowing for a maximum of three households to meet, and up to 25 people indoors and 75 outdoors. The remaining communities were in Phase 4, with no restriction on the number of households, and limits of 50 people for indoor gatherings and 150 outdoor. 

Cree health officials confirmed that four people recently died during the most recent wave of the pandemic, which began in December. It was not clear which communities the deceased were from, as privacy policies only allow the identification of a community with more than five deaths. There were still 116 active cases as of February 25, with 2,020 individuals having recovered and 28 people hospitalized. 

Cree School Board chairperson Sarah Pash said that it was important for parents to continue daily health checks ahead of sending children to school in a livestream presentation announcing the new health measures. She said that elementary and high schools in Wemindji, Eastmain, Nemaska, Whapmagoostui, Chisasibi and Waswanipi Elementary were doing in-person education, while Waskaganish, Mistissini and Ouje-Bougoumou were doing a hybrid model, with Waswanipi Secondary online-only.

In schools, testing is required if students show symptoms either at home or in class, or if a child in the same class tests positive for Covid. Testing kits were available in schools with individual kits being distributed to parents. Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty said that those studying outside their community would be able to return for their spring break, but they should first get updates on the latest local protocols.  

Across Quebec, working from home is no longer mandatory, as bars and sports venues reopened. Funerals and places of worship no longer have any capacity limits. In long-term care homes, caregivers and visitors will be allowed in common areas and not just a resident’s room. Residents are permitted up to 10 visitors a day, up from two. 

After March 14, Quebec no longer require vaccine passports for places like gyms, cinemas, restaurants and long-term care homes. Masks will remain mandatory in public indoor spaces, probably until mid-April. Proof of vaccination is still required for domestic air and rail travel, however. 

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.