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Fourth wave, fuelled by Delta variant, reaches Cree communities

BY Ben Powless Sep 12, 2021

After more than six months without new a case, the coronavirus has returned to Eeyou Istchee. The Cree Nation Government and Cree Health Board (CHB) announced at least seven active cases as well as others in Waskaganish, though they did not specify how many.

Of the seven cases, four were Mistissini community members who were infected while travelling outside Eeyou Istchee, and were isolating outside the community. Two are from Waswanipi who were also travelling and are isolating outside the community.

Public Health said that five of the cases are linked to an outbreak at an Indigenous hockey tournament in Saskatchewan August 13-15. Social activities and interactions surrounding the tournament are believed to be responsible for the transmissions. All are expected to recover soon.

There was an additional potential exposure at the Cree School Board Adult Education graduation photo shoot held August 27 in Mistissini, with no further details immediately available. All seven reported cases are suspected to be from the Delta variant, which is more contagious and has been fueling a fourth wave worldwide. 

Another potential outbreak was reported at the Pub Royal in Chibougamau for anyone who visited August 19-21. Anyone who was there is asked to get tested. So far, over 30 people have been tested, with no positive results.

Responding to the fourth wave, Cree Nation authorities announced new protocols and regions at risk. Indoor organized gatherings will be allowed to have a maximum of 50 people instead of 250, while outdoor organized gatherings may have up to 150 people instead of 250. 

Meanwhile, Montreal, Laval, Lanaudière, the Laurentides and Mauricie-et-Centre-du-Québec were added to the areas of risk. New measures require that anyone returning from an area at risk who is fully vaccinated to self-isolate for seven days, with a Covid test on day five. Those not vaccinated or partially vaccinated will be required to self-isolate for 10 days, getting a Covid test between day five and seven.

Vaccination measures were proceeding across all the communities, with Wemindji having 96% of its above-12 population fully vaccinated, with Mistissini the lowest at 71% fully vaccinated. The rate of fully vaccinated people in all of Canada is 66.6%. 

Vaccinations for youth 12-17 will continue at the beginning of the school year, while the CHB said it was struggling with a serious staff shortage. They announced that the 811 phone service is now available, allowing anyone to reach a nurse for non-emergencies in both English and French.

Quebec launched a vaccine passport system September 1. The passports can be printed by visiting covid19.quebec.ca/PreuveVaccinale or by downloading the VaxiCode app on either an Android or Apple phone. 

The passport is now required to access places like restaurants, bars, festivals, gyms, sports venues, casinos, bingo halls, bowling alleys and amusement parks. It will not be required for schools, grocery stores, pharmacies, private gatherings, weddings, funerals, places of worship or lodging. 

The passport system will apply to anyone over the age of 13. It’s not yet clear how it will work outside of Quebec, but the only other province currently requiring passports is British Colombia, while it is being considered in Ontario. 

Quebec continued to see an increase in new cases, with over 500 per day, a rate that hasn’t been seen since May. Closer to Eeyou Istchee, there were 10 reported active cases in Nord-du-Québec, and 20 in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean. Still, Nord-du-Québec wasn’t being considered an area of risk by the CHB since all the cases have been isolated and traced.

Across Canada, there were over 3,000 new cases per day, also a rate that hasn’t been seen since May. In the US, the pandemic yet again seems to be out of control, as over 160,000 new cases per day were being reported, after several Republican governors continued to block efforts to enforce masks and other health measures common around the world. 

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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.