Omicron optimism as Eeyou Istchee recovers from severe COVID-19 wave

By Benjamin Powless

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Cree leadership says Eeyou Istchee is “recovering from the most severe wave of Covid-19 to hit the territory, province and country.” In a statement they thanked the people of Eeyou Istchee for their sacrifice, dedication and resilience as they outlined a path out of the current pandemic that swept through Cree communities for over a month.

Still, there were reports of dozens of new cases, with 431 reported active as of January 27. With 1,153 recovered, that means there have been 1,584 confirmed cases of Covid in the Cree communities, with many more likely as not everyone who was a contact and asymptomatic has been tested. A total of 20 people had been hospitalized.

Mistissini still has 246 active cases, followed by Chisasibi with 78, Ouje-Bougoumou with 30, Waswanipi with 26, Waskaganish with 24, Wemindji with 11, Whapmagoostui with 7, Eastmain with 6, and Nemaska with 3.

Chisasibi, Mistissini and Waskaganish were in Phase 1 of deconfinement protocols, meaning all indoor and outdoor gatherings were forbidden, and only essential travel in and out of the community permitted. The rest of the communities were in Phase 2, meaning a maximum of two households were permitted to have indoor or outdoor gatherings. Only essential travel in and out of the community is permitted.

The Cree School Board was moving to a hybrid education model, with elementary and secondary schools rotating between online and in-person learning. Online learning is to continue in Chisasibi, Waskaganish and Mistissini.

In-class instruction started February 1 in Whapmagoostui, Wemindji, Eastmain, Nemaska, Ouje-Bougoumou and Waswanipi, and on February 7 in Chisasibi and Waskaganish. Mistissini school return dates were yet to be determined. That schedule also applies to Sabtuan Adult Education Services, except for Waswanipi, which is continuing virtually for now.

The Cree Health Board reported that a number of healthcare workers also contracted Covid during this outbreak, with some now returning to work, but that staff shortages have affected local health services. Following a Covid outbreak at the Chibougamau hospital, patients are now allowed only one caregiver visit a day, with the hospital recommending all hospital visits be postponed.

As of January 24, Cree health authorities were reporting that 64% of children aged 5-11 had received their first dose, while 87% of those aged 12 or above had received at least two doses. Meanwhile, 60% of those aged 18 and above had received three doses, for a total of 69% of the population considered fully vaccinated.

The CHB also said that it upgraded the Covid info-line to an automated system to direct callers to staff lines, which can give information on mental health support, isolation supports and rapid testing, general Covid information, and general vaccine information.

The number is available at 1-866-855-2811.

Across Quebec, a ban on in-person dining was lifted on January 31, with restaurants now allowed to operate at half-capacity.

Cinemas, theatres and places of worship were to open again as of February 7. Bars and gyms remain closed.

While classes resumed across Quebec high schools and elementary schools, Quebec’s Ministry of Education reported that over 49,000 students and more than 2,000 teachers were absent due to Covid.

Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, said that cases of the Omicron variant had peaked across the country, even though hospitalization rates were still at record highs. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended that children aged 5-17 who are severely immunocompromised receive a third shot.

Meanwhile, thousands of truckers and supporters descended on Ottawa in protest of vaccine mandates that they say are preventing them from working across the US-Canada border. Meanwhile, truckers’ associations said they did not support the convoy, and pointed out that 90% of their members are vaccinated.

 Benjamin Powless is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the  NATION. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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