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Third pandemic wave surges as vaccination rates pick up steam

BY Ben Powless Apr 23, 2021

Canada is in a punishing third wave of infections, even as vaccines continue to be administered at growing rates. 

Noting that cases were climbing in Ontario at an “alarming rate,” the Cree Health Board (CHB) strongly urged members to get their second vaccine dose before Goose Break. They confirmed that 10,158 people had received a vaccine so far, representing 77% of those eligible. Cree health officials said they aimed to allow more travel after Goose Break.

“The health benefit from being out on the land during Goose Break outweighs the risk associated with being at our traditional camps, especially if we do what we can to protect ourselves by following the Bush Camp Protocol developed by the Public Health Department,” the CHB said in a statement. 

The only areas that were regarded as safe to travel were Regions 10 (Nord-du-Québec), 17 (Nunavik) and 18 (Eeyou Istchee). Travel to all other areas required mandatory self-isolation upon return. The curfew in Region 10 has been lifted, allowing for indoor and outdoor gatherings of two households, businesses allowing in one person per household, and restaurants opened for dining of a maximum two adults per group. 

All Cree communities remained in Phase 4 of deconfinement measures. 

Quebec’s daily infections peaked at 1,800 recently, returning to levels last seen in January. More than 2 million doses of vaccine have been administered in the province, four months after it started its inoculation program. The province announced extended emergency measures until April 25 for the Outaouais, Chaudière-Appalaches and Quebec City. 

Canadian health officials confirmed the first case nationally of a rare but potentially fatal blood clot after a Quebec woman received the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. Over 300,000 doses of that vaccine have been administered. The blood clot does not appear to affect people over 55, and every province and territory has suspended its use in patients under 55. 

In the United States, the US Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended suspending the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after detecting a rare blood clot in six patients, out of 6.8 million who received the vaccine. 

While the vaccine has been approved in this country, none have been delivered to Canada by its US manufacturer. Canadian officials said they were closely monitoring the decision. 

In total, over 8.5 million vaccine shots have been administered in Canada, with over 20% of the population receiving at least one dose. 

The Nation reached out to Indigenous service organizations to see how they have been affected by Covid precautions. 

Christina Gull, Team Leader for the Robin’s Nest Women’s Shelter in Waskaganish, said that Covid has not impacted their ability to deliver services. She says the precautions in place are very strict, which includes a gate that requires a letter from the CHB to enter. Otherwise, they are following Cree Nation guidelines and protocols, including social distancing.

Nathalie Fiset, Administrative Coordinator for the Val-d’Or Friendship Centre, said that Covid restrictions forced the centre to invest in a new, much-larger location for Willy’s Place, a dry shelter for the homeless and intoxicated, since their previous space was too small to allow social distancing. 

The centre also separated the services they offer between different locations, while continuing to offer an on-site medical clinic with a doctor and nurse to treat patients. Those taking competency classes were moved to another location. However, all events have been paused, unless staff members feel they can be done safely.

“We implement teams and share apps and OneDrive to allow people to work remotely and have adopted the work-from-home policy by the government, unless they need direct access to service members,” Fiset added. They also provide masks for anyone entering, and require standard measures like handwashing, social distancing and signing in. 

The Montreal Friendship Centre has also implemented measures allowing for a maximum of 10 community members in their space, for a maximum of two hours. Between those two-hour time blocks, the staff disinfects the centre. Additionally, everyone entering must wear a mask, receive a temperature check, and sign in and out. 

Their drop-in day centre amenities are still available, including showers, laundry and washrooms, as well as a daily breakfast program, lunch program, food baskets and deliveries. The centre’s street-patrol teams also remain active as a necessary service but has had to adapt to social distancing measures. All recreational activities have been paused.

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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.