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Outbreaks in Chibougamau and Chapais prompt new travel and deconfinement warnings

BY Ben Powless Nov 30, 2020

As Covid-19 cases continue to rise, Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean emerged with the highest number of new cases in Quebec, while Chibougamau and Chapais were moved into the red zone of highest-risk areas. That prompted the Cree Health Board (CHB) and Cree Nation Government to revise warnings and deconfinement levels in the area. 

Acknowledging that many essential workers may live in Ouje-Bougoumou or Mistissini and commute to Chibougamau or Chapais, it is recommended that community members only travel to Chibougamau or Chapais for health care, emergency services, school or other essential services. 

For residents of the other communities in Eeyou Istchee, Chibougamau and Chapais are considered unsafe. People visiting either town will be required to isolate for 14 days upon returning home. There were no restrictions placed on travelling between communities within Eeyou Istchee.

Mistissini and Ouje-Bougoumou also moved back to Phase 3 of deconfinement measures, meaning that only 25 people are permitted at indoor gatherings and 75 people at outdoor gatherings. The remaining communities stayed at Phase 4.

The CHB stated that there was no evidence of community transmission yet in Chibougamau or Chapais, meaning any transmission in the community that could not be traced to a contained outside source. 

Nonetheless, health authorities recommended avoiding restaurants (except for take-out or drive-through), bars, gatherings, or visiting anyone in either community. Students will not be prevented from attending school in either community but must follow any increased measures or restrictions.

Additional safety measures were put in place for healthcare workers, patients and essential workers travelling to either community. The CHB said it was working with medical services in Chibougamau to ensure patients were safe, reiterating that hemodialysis treatments there are still permitted. 

Visits to the Chibougamau hospital were also reduced to one bedside escort per day. 

Cree health authorities stated that Covid cases were stabilizing, though at a very high and unsustainable level, but expressed optimism for vaccine development. 

“There are many hurdles to be crossed before a vaccine is available in Eeyou Istchee, but at least the question is no longer if but when. As the finish line begins to come into sight this will be the most challenging time. Community members are fatigued from all the restrictions, healthcare workers are fatigued from months of struggle and leadership is fatigued from the never-ending logistical challenges to keep our communities functioning,” the CHB said in a statement.

Several vaccine trials in the US and the UK demonstrated effectiveness of between 62% and 95%, as those countries moved forward with plans to begin vaccine distribution as early as December. The Canadian government has yet to approve any vaccines or give a timeline of when they may be distributed domestically. 

Region 2 (Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean) was reporting over 100 new cases per day, bringing their total to over 4,366 cases, with 1,103 still active. There were 57 people hospitalized in the region and seven new deaths, for a total of 103. 

The CHB said that local testing capacity in Region 2 had been quickly exceeded, which meant it would take longer to get test results. 

Region 8 (Abitibi-Témiscamingue) reported three new cases, for a total of 82 overall. Region 10 (Nord-du-Québec) reported no new cases, with 52 overall, and nine still active.

Meanwhile, they stressed, the most important measures to prevent outbreaks in Eeyou Istchee were to respect travel restrictions, answer local security officers’ questions honestly, practice physical distancing and other precautionary measures, reduce the size of social circles and reduce the number of social interactions.

The only areas that were considered safe to travel remained Region 8, Region 10 outside of Radisson (and Chibougamou and Chapais only for residents of Mistissini and Ouje-Bougoumou), Region 17, as well as the Porcupine and Timiskaming regions in Ontario. 

The CHB acknowledged that social isolation and uncertainty were taking a mental-health toll and reiterated that the health board was working to provide psychosocial support to those who may need it, including through the health line, 1-833-632-4357. Mental health supports were also available to students and staff at the schools.

The Cree School Board announced that the school break was being extended to January 4, which would allow for travel and self-isolation time for both students and staff. Post-secondary students were reminded that they must contact the post-secondary office if they plan to travel home for the holidays.

Across Eeyou Istchee, there were no new cases, with 16 total cases and only one active case. So far, 1,421 regular tests had been done, with 1,398 negative results and seven awaiting results. Plus, 1,783 screening tests had been done, with 1,769 negative results and 14 awaiting results. 

In Quebec, over 1,100 cases a day had been reported recently. Premier François Legault announced that people would be permitted to attend two social gatherings with a maximum of 10 people each between December 24-27, with people asked to quarantine for a week before and after.

Canada broke new records, seeing over 5,700 new cases and 100 deaths per day, rising to 345,000 cases and over 11,600 deaths in total. Globally there were over 59 million cases and 1.4 million 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.