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Orange zone moves north

BY Ben Powless Nov 16, 2020

A recent outbreak of Covid-19 cases in Chibougamau and Chapais combined with a recent scare in Waskaganish have kept public health officials busy, as cases surge across much of the world. 

Three small outbreaks were reported in Region 10, Chibougamau/Chapais in the past weeks, including one worksite, a school and two families. 

One positive case was recorded at MacLean Memorial School in Chibougamau. According to the Cree Health Board’s Christine Petawabano, contact tracing has been completed among students, who were tested and told to self-isolate. 

In a radio broadcast, the CHB physician Dr. Colleen Fuller said it was an important reminder for children on the importance of washing their hands and wearing masks if mandated.

“In Eeyou Istchee schools, we’re going back over our own protocols and making sure they’re strong,” Fuller said. “We’re following the situation very closely and working with the leadership of Region 10 to make sure we have the most updated information.”

The Regional Health Centre and Social Services of James Bay said in a statement that two individuals were infected at a Bolorama bowling alley in Chibougamau.

This brought the Nord-du-Québec region to 24 confirmed cases, 15 being active, and 99 people in isolation. In response, the Quebec government moved the region into an orange zone status, which does not prohibit travel from other regions, but does limit some social activities and gatherings.

Petawabano said there was no evidence of community transmission in Chibougamau, as all cases were traced back to Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, but that it was still important for individuals to limit their social circles and interactions. 

The news came after a public health scare in Waskaganish, where about 60 people were identified as contacts of an individual under self-isolation orders. 

Officials in the community were alerted November 1 of a private social gathering at this individual’s home. Eeyou Police and public safety agents intervened at the home, according to Ryan Erless, Waskaganish’s Director of Community Services. 

An investigation revealed that several people had come into contact with the individual or others who had. Many of these people were put on the isolation list.

The next day the host tested negative, allowing the names to be removed from the isolation list.  

“It just goes to show how fast the disease would spread if it actually hit Waskaganish, how lots of people can be affected by just one person,” said Erless. 

Erless noted that people were intoxicated while visiting other people’s homes and asking for rides. They then went home and put their family members at risk, according to Erless.

“It’s not a joke, it’s something real. We don’t have to wait until it’s here to act on it, we have to take the necessary precautions – masks, handwashing, distancing. We have to always be on alert and vigilant. Some people are starting to get loose on the protocols after seeing no active cases,” Erless continued.

“People need to understand that the Cree communities don’t have the necessary resources if the disease hits. We have one hospital in Chisasibi and all of the other communities have small clinics. People have to be on alert to protect their families, their children, their parents and grandparents.”

A 16th case was reported for the region of Eeyou Istchee for a person who contracted the virus at a hospital in Montreal, currently in isolation and recovering. The 15th reported case had fully recovered. 

Overall, 1,374 tests had been done in Eeyou Istchee, with 1,353 negative results and 5 awaiting results. 1,724 screening tests were done, with 1,712 negative results and 12 pending. 

With a growing number of cases in Sudbury, Ontario, the CHB said there was a concern for community spread, and Sudbury was added to the list of areas of risk as of November 10. 

This means the only regions still considered safe for travel in Quebec were Region 8 (Abitibi-Témiscamingue), Region 10 (Nord-du-Québec outside of Radisson) Region 17 (Nunavik) and Region 18 (Eeyou Istchee). The only regions still considered safe for travel in Ontario were Porcupine and Timiskaming. 

The CHB noted that worldwide, cases were growing at an alarming rate, with the US, Quebec, and Ontario struggling to stop the spread, as First Nations in western Canada began to see a surge in cases. 

However, they also said there was reason to be cautiously optimistic about the potential for a vaccine, as a number of vaccines in development globally began to show promising results. 

New protocols were also implemented that allow for Cree patients travelling south through CHB transportation services to have a supervised seven-day isolation down south that would only require a seven-day isolation upon returning. 

The schools in Whapmagoostui and Nemaska were set to receive additional support personnel, as the Cree School Board’s (CSB) Education Services Department was working to hire language pathologists, a psychologist and other consultants. 

The CSB was also continuing work to prepare and deliver laptops for students in Secondary 4 and 5 as well as Adult Education. 

The CSB announced a new department of digital learning to support youth and adult virtual learning and other online initiatives.

A new school calendar was to be distributed after approval that would allow for a necessary isolation period after staff return after the Christmas break. Post-Secondary Student Services said students would be required to submit travel requests if they planned to return to their communities for Christmas.

The CHB emphasized that people struggling with the pandemic restrictions can reach their psychosocial health line at 1-833-632-4357. Specialists with traditional approaches to healing are available for consultation. 

Across Canada, there were a confirmed 276,000 positive cases of Covid-19, with over 10,600 deaths. In the US, where cases have crossed over 140,000 cases per day, the country was reporting over 10 million cases and 240,000 deaths.

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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.