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Third wave ebbs as CHB issues health guidelines for Goose Break

BY Ben Powless May 9, 2021

Quebec is beginning to ease confinement measures as new coronavirus cases decline, though Ontario and other provinces continue to face a third wave of infections far worse than seen in the previous 16 months of the global pandemic. 

While Ontario is in a six-week lockdown, Quebec Premier François Legault moved the curfew back to 9:30pm-5am in Montreal and Laval May 3, and eliminated all curfew restrictions in Region 10 (Nord-du-Québec). 

The Cree Health Board (CHB) reported there were no new cases or reports of variants within Eeyou Istchee, but Region 2 (Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean) and Region 8 (Abitibi-Témiscamingue) were still reporting daily new cases. Region 2 health officials reported 208 active cases, while Region 8 reported 28. 

“As we see, Quebec and Ontario are in the third wave of the pandemic caused by a surge of cases of the variant. These new cases of the variant affect younger people, and they are getting sicker,” said CHB Vice-Chair Christine Petawabano in a radio address.

“The Cree Nation has not reported any cases of the variant in Eeyou Istchee. Our communities enjoy the freedom and benefits of gathering and visiting family. We must continue to protect our communities as we move forward with our seasonal activities.”

Meanwhile, the vaccination campaign in Eeyou Istchee was on target in late April: 10,551 people had received a first dose (85% of those eligible); another 6,721 had received a second (61% of those eligible). 

Cree health officials expressed optimism at the news that vaccinated individuals are much less likely transmit Covid-19, which may allow for looser travel restrictions for those who have received a second dose. For now, though, vaccinated individuals are still subject to mandatory self-isolation laws when travelling to areas of risk.

The second dose is available in all communities, and health officials are pushing for people to get vaccinated before Goose Break. Cree beneficiaries outside Cree territory are still eligible to receive vaccinations but may face delays due to mass vaccination campaigns underway in southern cities. 

Wiichihiituwin clients and escorts were to be vaccinated as well and will be contacted for details. The Cree School Board said it had shared details with the CHB of students and dependents in the south who are eligible for vaccination, and they are to receive appointment details from the CHB.  

Every part of Ontario and Quebec was considered an area of risk, outside of Region 10, Region 17 (Nunavik) and Region 18 (Eeyou Istchee). Intercommunity travel was permitted for visiting family and other essential reasons. Cree leaders said that travel restrictions to the Saguenay and Abitibi regions would be reviewed after Goose Break. 

Schools across Eeyou Istchee remained on schedule B, with masks required in Waswanipi, Mistissini and Ouje-Bougoumou. Sabtuan Adult Education Services classes continue, with measures including masks and social distancing. 

The CHB also published updated guidelines on best health practices during Goose Break. They include using verbal greetings instead of shaking hands, keeping socially distanced, only visiting other camps in emergencies, not sharing food or beverages, not to lend or borrow gear, and to disinfect cabins or goose blinds that are shared. 

Health authorities also recommended people inform others of travel destinations, verify if routes have changed due to weather conditions, and to check in with Elders or experts about the safest route.

After problems related to vaccine deliveries, primarily with the Moderna vaccine, Quebec announced that some individuals may receive a second dose that was different from the first, a move which experts say should still provide good – and perhaps enhanced – immunity. 

Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization meanwhile recommended expanding the AstraZeneca-Oxford to those under 30 who do not face health risks related to extremely rare blood clots that have been detected. Quebec announced one death related to blood clots from the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, after more than 400,000 doses had been administered.

In Alberta, public health data showed that more people between 20 and 50 years old were ending up in ICUs than ever before, as variants now dominate provincial infections. 

Quebec was reporting over 900 new cases per day, a decline of 24% from the previous week, while Ontario was reporting over 3,000 new cases per day, a decline from over 4,000 cases per day a week earlier. 

This brought Quebec to over 346,000 people infected. Nationally, over 1.1 million cases were reported in Canada with over 24,000 deaths. Quebec reported 3.3 million vaccine doses administered, while Canada had administered 12.5 million doses, with 975,000 fully vaccinated. 

Internationally, there were 147.5 million reported cases, with 3.1 million deaths. India is the latest country to be devastated by the virus, as much of the country’s health system is crumbling in response to the crisis.

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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.