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Uptick in new Covid-19 cases delays Phase 4 as CSB releases plans for in-class and virtual learning

BY Ben Powless Jul 24, 2020

While Eeyou Istchee continued its streak of no new cases of Covid-19 through late July, Cree health authorities are pushing back plans to move to Phase 4 of deconfinement as infections slowly rise across the province – including in neighbouring regions. 

In a radio address July 21, Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB) Vice-Chairperson Christine Petawabano said that Cree leadership would wait another two weeks to evaluate whether it was appropriate to move into Phase 4, which would allow for larger indoor and outdoor gatherings. 

That news comes as Quebec begins to see a modest rise in new cases of the coronavirus, including in the Abitibi region. This new infection uptick followed the Quebec government’s move to allow bars and nightclubs to reopen in late June. 

Region 2 (Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean) announced 13 positive test results cases since July 14, prompting the Health Board to once again enforce 14 days of mandatory self-isolation on visitors to the region. The CBHSSJB also stated that it was concerned about the recent spike in transmission across Quebec.

Eeyou Istchee remains free of active cases, with 670 tests of community members returning 650 negative results, with 10 awaiting results and 10 cases recovered. Another 763 screening tests have been completed, returning 749 negative results and 14 more awaiting results. 

Cree health authorities also issued a change to Phase 5 deconfinement plans. Instead of dismantling community checkpoints, they now say that such checkpoints may have to stay up, as cases may still be out of control across Quebec or Canada as Eeyou Istchee gets ready for things to return to normal.

Authorities also underscored that there will forever exist a risk from travel down south until a vaccine is developed. They urged Cree who travel to communities considered safe to continue to exercise caution and avoid places where transmission could be a problem, such as bars and restaurants. 

The Cree School Board also announced several different scenarios for the return to school August 27. 

In its low-risk scenario, students would return to classes, with some modifications. Those include daily health questionnaires, increased hygiene measures, distancing scenarios and possible class-size restrictions.

In the medium-risk scenario, all the above restrictions would be in place, with increased distancing requirements and modified school operations. 

In a scenario of high risk, no classroom instruction would be permitted. Instead, all learning would take place at home and online, with interactive virtual support from teachers.

Petawabano also noted that classes may be held in different locations than normal, including outdoors. 

Summer school classes began July 13. 

Cree School Board offices in Montreal and Ottawa remain closed with staff working remotely. However, the head office in Mistissini will reopen for employees only, working in small rotating groups.

Post-secondary students registered for the winter term are set to receive an extra allowance for August to support them during the pandemic. This will include all students studying online.

Across Quebec, the provincial government has mandated masks be worn in any enclosed public spaces. The Cree leadership stated that they supported this position but would leave local communities to decide whether to implement such a requirement. 

CBHSSJB Chairperson Bella Moses Petawabano noted that Cree Health Board guidelines call for masks to be put on with clean hands, while ensuring that it covers the nose and mouth. They also say masks should be replaced if they become moist and be laundered after every use.

Meanwhile, Christine Petawabano noted that the Wiichihiituwin charter continues to experience several “no shows” by passengers booked to travel, which has a negative impact on others who want to use the service. She urged individuals to call Wiichihiituwin if they decide not to take the charter. 

Outside of Quebec, Ontario and Alberta have also seen infection spikes, as Canada passed 111,000 cases in total. New infections continue to spiral upwards large parts of the United States, which has more than 3.8 million cases. The US-Canada border is expected to stay closed to non-essential travel for the foreseeable future.

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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.