The number of active Covid cases appear to have crested in Eeyou Istchee. The Cree Health Board reported 368 active cases as of January 17, down from a high of 602 reported January 6.
However, new cases are still being reported from the massive outbreak that began December 22. Since then, 1,173 cases had been reported as of press time, with 805 considered recovered. Among those infected in this period, 14 people had been hospitalized.
Public health officials continue to urge people who test positive to inform those they had been in contact with. Close contacts should assume they are positive and self-isolate for 10 days and wait 3-5 days to get a test if they feel no symptoms. If they are symptomatic, they should assume they are positive and inform their community’s Public Safety Officer. Beginning January 6, individuals who received Covid screenings at community clinics or the Chisasibi Hospital are informed of their results by text message.
Phase One community measures remain in effect, prohibiting all intercommunity travel inside or outside Eeyou Istchee, except for essential reasons. All indoor and outdoor gatherings were prohibited with people not in the same household. Everywhere, except Region 10 (Nord-du-Québec), is considered an area of risk.
“Many healthcare staff who work and live in our communities have caught Covid-19. This has put a lot of pressure on local healthcare services. Community measures are helping to reduce some of that pressure,” CHB Vice-Chair Christine Petawabano explained in a radio update.
As a result of staffing shortages, some services were no longer available at Community Miyupimaatisiiun Centres; though emergency services, vaccinations and testing remain in place. The Ouje-Bougoumou CMC also announced that it was in emergency mode until further notice due to a lack of water at the clinic.
Some medical appointments in the south have been delayed or postponed, though Wiichiihituwin patients and escorts can still travel for essential care with a few changes. Those changes include no longer offering meal service on charter flights, with water and glucose available to lower the need for mask removal on the plane. Patients returning to Eeyou Istchee will be able to get screened at the Montreal hangar and Val-d’Or airport.
Across Quebec, nearly 3,400 people were hospitalized. Health authorities in nine regions of Quebec, including Greater Montreal, were exceeding all extra beds that had been freed up to accommodate the latest wave of the pandemic, fueled by the Omicron variant.
In the east of Montreal, health authorities were allowing only patients needing emergency surgeries. Premier François Legault called on government employees to volunteer in hospitals, as staff shortages continued to affect the availability of care.
About 20,000 healthcare workers were absent due to the virus as of January 8, and another 30,000 were on leave due to burnout or other medical conditions. The province announced it was closing some emergency rooms and urgent care departments, including cardiology and trauma centres, while delaying surgeries.
Legault announced plans to impose a tax on unvaccinated people, saying that the cost to the government for hundreds of individuals taking up hospital beds had to be offset by fines.
Quebec also ended its province-wide curfew January 17 and allowed stores to once again open on Sundays. However, vaccine passports will now be required to outlets of the SAQ and SQDC. Vaccine proof will also be required at large stores like Costco and Walmart, but not at grocery stores or pharmacies.
Health Canada approved a new therapeutic drug developed by Pfizer, called Paxlovid, that it determined reduces the risk of hospitalization or death by 89% in non-hospitalized high-risk adults with Covid. The drug comes in pill form and would be prescribed by a doctor, but could be taken at home, unlike other emergency treatments currently available. Canada said it currently has 30,000 doses and expects another 120,000 treatments to arrive by April.
by Ben Powless, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter