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News ᑎᐹᒋᒧᐧᐃᓐ

Health authorities push to keep masks as mandate ends across Quebec

BY Ben Powless May 24, 2022

Eeyou Istchee saw a dramatic drop in the number of active cases of Covid, as similar health metrics from across the province showed the sixth wave declining. The Cree Health Board reported May 4 that there were 270 active cases and five people hospitalized, compared to 519 cases two weeks earlier.

Cases were highest in Chisasibi and Whapmagoostui, with 85 and 53 respectively. They were lowest in Nemaska and Ouje-Bougoumou, with both reporting eight cases. For two consecutive days, April 30 and May 1, there were no new cases reported, a significant shift. 

That brings the total number of infections across Eeyou Istchee to 6,434 in the current outbreak that began in December, representing nearly a third of the Cree population. A recent study by Héma-Québec found that over a quarter of Quebec adults developed Covid antibodies between January and mid-March. 

The blood service organization looked at samples from donors and compared them to those taken from the same individuals before the Omicron variant. It’s also estimated that more than a third of all children in Quebec were infected with the virus since the Omicron wave began in December, though they were not included in this study. 

The CHB recommended that individuals get tested before travelling to their bush camps, and to bring rapid test kits to their camp for Goose Break. They encouraged people to maintain physical distancing and to wear a mask when around people they don’t live with, and to regularly air out their cabins. 

While Quebec lifted its indoor mask mandate May 14, the CHB’s Public Health Department recommends that indoor masking continue in Eeyou Istchee. Masks are still required on all flights, and people are encouraged to wear masks in indoor areas when travelling to other regions. 

“Our most vulnerable populations continue to be at risk of catching the Covid-19 virus given ongoing community transmission in Eeyou Istchee. When masks are worn to cover the nose and mouth snugly, they reduce the transmission of virus droplets between people. Masking is an effective layer of protection when people are together indoors, and is an important tool during this transition phase,” the advisory stated.

Masks are still required in Quebec in healthcare settings and public transit, as well as federally mandated transit. 

At the end of April, the CHB reported that 64% of those aged 18-54 had received three doses, while 21% of those aged 55 and over had received four doses. At least 28% of those 12-17 had received three doses, while 58% of those 5-11 had received two doses. All Quebecers 18 and over are now eligible for a fourth dose.

Covid outbreaks, staff shortages and Goose Break leaves continued to affect local clinics, with Ouje-Bougoumou’s CMC, Chisasibi’s Awash Department and Whapmagoostui’s CMC and MSDC all announcing reduced services for the time being. They join Wemindji and Waswanipi, which announced reduced services in April. 

The federal government allowed its remaining emergency benefits to expire, meaning that workers needing to leave work to care for themselves or others due to Covid are no longer able to access benefits. 

Meanwhile, Health Canada said it was reviewing Moderna’s Covid vaccine for infants and children under six. That news comes after the company asked US health authorities to authorize its vaccine there for children between six months and five years of age.

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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.