Parties now linked to 30 cases of COVID-19 in Cree communities

Officials in northern Quebec Cree communities say they are confident two outbreaks linked to parties over the new year are now under control. 

Last Friday, several cases were confirmed in Oujé-Bougoumou, all linked to parties between Dec. 31 and Jan. 7.

Yesterday, health officials confirmed another 10 cases in the nearby Cree community of Mistissini, also linked to gatherings over the holidays. It is not clear if they were the same parties. 

“Unfortunately there were two ‘super-spreader’ events related to social gatherings in Oujé-Bougoumou, Chibougamau, [and] Mistissini area,” said a statement by the Cree Nation government, released Sunday. 

In total, the gatherings have led to 30 confirmed cases since Friday — 13 in Oujé-Bougoumou, 10 in Mistissini, with the remaining confirmed cases among Cree people who live in nearby non-Cree communities, such as Chibougamau. Two elders are part of those infected, according to officials. 

The majority of the infected persons have been associated to these events.– Virginia Wabano, CBHSSJB

“Throughout the holidays, there have been social gatherings that did occur,” said Virginia Wabano, regional proximity director for inland communities for the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay. 

“The majority of the infected persons have been associated to these events.”

Wabano said that there was some inter-regional travel that happened over the holidays, as well as students returning home for the holidays from southern communities.

“We do have close knit families within our various communities,” said Wabano.

Nurse Mary Mapachee administers one of the first COVID-19 vaccines in Oujé Bougoumou to Cree elder Sydney Coonishish. The community, along with the nearby Cree community of Mistissini, is dealing with an outbreak of the virus linked to parties held over the new year. (CBHSSJB/Harry Bosum)

So far, 250 people have been identified through a large-scale contact-tracing exercise that began Thursday by the Cree health board. More than 140 people had been tested by Sunday. 

“Many are testing negative, which demonstrates the Cree health board contact tracing teams are finding the ends of the transmission chains,” said the statement from Cree leadership.

Leaders reminded people of how quickly the virus can move into communities. 

“Recent events show how one lapse in judgment can have an impact on so many,” said the statement.

It would spread like wildfire.-Abel Bosum, Cree Grand Chief

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Cree leaders have warned of the dangers of COVID-19 getting into communities because of a vulnerable population, many with underlying health conditions such as diabetes. There is also the issue of overcrowding in many homes, according to Grand Chief Abel Bosum. 

“Should a member of one family catch, it that would spread like wildfire,” said Bosum in an interview last week.

“We are so close to each other.”

Pierre Larivière, head of current services at the Cree health board in Oujé-Bougoumou, and Cree Grand Chief Abel Bosum signal their approval as the box with the COVID-19 vaccines arrives from Mistissini over the weekend. (CBHSSJB/Harry Bosum)

All of this is happening as the Cree territory prepares to launch a region-wide vaccination campaign as early as January 16, according to Virginia Wabano of the Cree health board.

“We have our vaccination planning teams that are all ready to have these vaccination clinics underway,” said Wabano.

Last week, 1,000 people were vaccinated over five days in Mistissini according the Cree health board. Over the weekend, two hundred doses of the Moderna vaccine were also airlifted to Oujé-Bougoumou from Mistissini, to start vaccinating vulnerable people there. 

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