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Eeyou Istchee moves to final deconfinement step as another Covid wave looms

BY Ben Powless Apr 13, 2022

Cree communities moved into Step 3 of the Deconfinement Management Plan March 25, abandoning previous requirements for unvaccinated people returning from areas of risk to follow a “reduced activity protocol” for up to seven days.

Now, individuals who spent more than 72 hours in an area of risk will only need a rapid test on the day of their return, as well as a test on days 3 and 5, regardless of vaccination status. Those in an area of risk for under 72 hours only require a test on days 3 and 5. 

Those who test positive are still required to isolate for seven days and conduct contact tracing. The move follows other jurisdictions that have moved toward managing infections caused by the Omicron variant, which is regarded as more contagious but less deadly.

Across Eeyou Istchee, there were 369 active Covid cases as of March 28, an increase of over 40 since numbers were last posted March 25. As of March 25, every community had confirmed cases except for Whapmagoostui, with Eastmain having the most cases at 114. There were no new deaths, leaving the total number of deaths from the current outbreak at five.

All of Quebec and Ontario were considered areas of risk apart from Eeyou Istchee and northern Quebec. Wiichihiituwin clients were informed that a lack of hotel rooms in the Abitibi region, including in Val-d’Or, Rouyn and Amos, meant that they should call Val-d’Or dispatch to arrange lodging in nearby towns. 

The Cree School Board announced that vocational and general educational programs resumed in-person instruction after special Covid allowances were released to students in early March. Post-secondary staff were also working at full capacity in their offices, as study lounges and areas opened in Montreal and Gatineau.

Quebec’s interim public health director signalled that the province may be heading towards a sixth wave of the coronavirus, driven by a recent spike in cases from Omicron’s BA.2 subvariant, which is more contagious than the previous Omicron strain prevalent since December.

Throughout Quebec, 8,600 healthcare workers were absent between March 21 and 28, a 60% rise in infections among frontline workers. Eastmain announced that due to staff shortages, there would be reduced services at its CMC, including no home services, while the MSDC was closed except for the meals on wheels program.

Despite the evidence of a new wave, provincial officials said they have no plans to reintroduce containment measures and indicated they still plan to eliminate mask mandates by mid-April. Meanwhile, the Quebec government announced that seniors in long-term care and retirement homes are now eligible for a second booster shot.

An outbreak at the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre in Kahnawake was affecting half of the residents and nine staff, but the centre’s executive director said that due to vaccinations the cases were mild. 

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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.