Federal government is considering Ontario’s request for Bearskin Lake First Nation
The federal government has received Ontario’s formal request for the military to be sent to Bearskin Lake First Nation to help with its rapidly growing COVID-19 outbreak, and is working with the community on what it may need, Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said Friday.
Hajdu said Friday the federal government had only just received the request, which she called a necessary component for military deployment.
“We’re working with the community right now to determine what kind of skills they’re looking for,” she said. The formal request was made Thursday, five days after Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin publicly asked Ottawa for military support.
Pressure on the federal government has been growing throughout the week, as case counts have risen and staff have become overwhelmed, despite assistance from other nearby First Nations.
At least 200 people in Bearskin Lake — a community of roughly 400, some 600 kilometres north from Thunder Bay — have tested positive for the virus in the last 10 days. More than half of the community is in quarantine.
Meanwhile, the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team says more than 40 of the 63 First Nations in Manitoba had active COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday. That’s up from the low 20s before Christmas. The current five-day test positivity rate on-reserve is 25 per cent, the pandemic response team said in its Thursday update.
At least eight communities in the north already have some form of lockdown or travel restrictions in place. The Southern Chiefs’ Organization says at least two southern communities are under lockdown, with another under partial lockdown. Three chiefs told CBC News they are mulling whether to declare a state of emergency for their communities.
Manto Sipi Cree Nation Chief John Ross says he knows of at least 64 positive cases as of Thursday in his community, also known as Gods River. That’s the most the community has seen since the pandemic began, which he said has seen only a few positive cases since March 2020.
“We do believe we are in a state of emergency at this time,” he said. “We need outside resources to come in and help, to bring … positive cases down and to try and contain the virus from spreading.”
Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation Chief Marcel Moody said his community has about 36 known cases, which is the most he’s seen in the entire pandemic. About 80 homes are isolating.
“It’s so frustrating,” he said. “We try our best to contain the virus, but it seems no matter what we do, it was bound to come in.”
On-reserve per capita rates were strongly associated with overcrowded housing, unsuitable or poor housing, housing needing major repairs and remote fly-in only communities with no local hospitals, researchers at the University of Brandon’s Rural Development Institute said in a recent study.
That view is shared in Nunavut, by the chief public health officer. During a news conference Thursday, Dr. Michael Patterson said once one person in a Nunavut household tests positive for the virus, evidence has shown that there is almost a 100 per cent chance everyone else in that household will catch the virus as well.
“We know that overcrowding is contributing to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” Akeeagok said. “As such, our government will continue to advocate for housing for Nunavummiut.”
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller acknowledged the problem when he visited Iqaluit last July in his previous role as Indigenous services minister. He said then that overcrowded housing was “a vehicle for spread” during a COVID-19 outbreak
According to data from Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), as of Jan. 4, there were 2,473 total hospitalizations in First Nations communities due to COVID-19. As of Dec.15, the number of total hospitalizations was 2,388.
The ISC reported 2,667 active cases of COVID-19 in First Nations as of Jan. 4. It’s up significantly from the 916 active cases reported as of Dec. 22. As with much of the country, case numbers may be understated as some provinces are now limiting access to PCR tests.
From The National
When it comes to understanding the pandemic, what numbers matter?
That’s at the heart of discussions taking place in jurisdictions in Canada and across the world as the number of Omicron cases explodes.
For the longest time, case counts were a reliable proxy for understanding the pandemic. But that’s no longer the case, say people who have analyzed pandemic statistics since the beginning. And CBC News has begun de-emphasizing daily case counts in our coverage, or at least providing more context with other data points.
There are well-documented testing capacity issues. People like Ontarian Alexander Brovedani have been confronted with those issues. Brovedani tested for COVID-19 on Dec. 23 and still doesn’t have his results while experiencing symptoms such as a cough and dizziness.
At the other end of the equation, labs are stressed due to workload and absences likely spurred by Omicron.
“Labs have called people back from vacation. The manpower needed just to keep up with the demand in Ontario is incredibly large,” Michelle Hoad, CEO of the Medical Laboratory Professionals’ Association of Ontario, said in an interview.
As well, the decision to give rapid tests to more people in lieu of using official PCR-test channels — the results of which are not integrated into official case counts — means case counts have reduced utility.
Omicron is more transmissible, but symptoms appear less severe than previous variants. More people who get COVID-19 in this wave are likely to display minor symptoms, and a smaller percentage of people are ending up being hospitalized.
For those like Daniel Coombs, head of University of British Columbia’s mathematics department and member of the independent B.C. COVID-19 modelling group, it presents challenges. Changes mean cases are much less helpful for modelling if transmission will go up or down or for predicting hospitalizations.
“We’re forced to extrapolate from data from other countries [further along the Omicron wave], in particular the United Kingdom,” said Coombs.
“But different countries report hospitalizations in slightly different ways. So even making an apples-to-apples comparison is tricky.”
Some infectious disease experts have spoken out against decisions by provinces to scale back testing, but for Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, the move makes sense.
“The vast majority of the population is now protected with two doses of vaccine. We don’t need to know the case number every day, and we certainly don’t need to be publishing it on the news every morning,” says Chakrabarti, an infectious disease specialist at Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, west of Toronto.
He says Ontario is shifting back to the way it tracked viruses pre-pandemic, since COVID-19 case counts are not as closely aligned with severe illness and hospitalization as they were before mass immunization.
“We don’t need to test every single person that gets mild symptoms,” Chakrabarti said in an interview. “Generally, what we do is we keep a surveillance of what happens at high-risk settings like long-term care and hospitals.”
The doctor appreciates the anxiety for people like Brovedani.
“You can have solace knowing that you’re protected against severe disease with vaccination, and if you’re worried about family members, just wait five days from the start of your symptoms and then you can go and see them,” he said.
U.S. vaccination rate lags at 62%, but Biden’s bid for employer vaccine mandate could be nixed by top court
It was a big day for the future of efforts by U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration to try to effect change in a pandemic that is again spreading like wildfire, as the Omicron variant is transmitting rapidly while the toll of the Delta variant is still being felt in some parts of the country.
The conservative-tilted Supreme Court heard arguments on a case involving the vaccine-or-testing mandate for large businesses with more than 100 employees. The White House would like to begin enforcing a previously announced policy on Monday that would see the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) require businesses of that size to ensure their employers are vaccinated or tested weekly — a mandate that applies to more than 80 million workers countrywide.
The stakes are considerable. The White House has said the two temporary mandates will save lives and strengthen the U.S. economy by increasing the number of vaccinated Americans by the millions. Currently, slightly more than 62 per cent of the country is considered fully vaccinated, lagging far behind most Western countries despite an early start to the vaccine campaign, including Canada by some 18 percentage points.
The U.S. reported 662,000 new COVID cases on Thursday, the fourth-highest daily U.S. total ever recorded and just three days after a record of nearly one million cases was reported, according to a Reuters tally. Hospitalizations are around 123,000 and about 1,300 Americans are dying each day for COVID-related reasons.
“I don’t believe we’ve seen the peak yet here in the United States,” Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday.
The challengers, representing some business groups and officials from a number of Republican-led states, have argued that the federal government exceeded its authority by imposing requirements not specifically authorized by Congress and failed to follow the proper administrative processes for issuing emergency regulations.
At the hearing, some justices raised the possibility of the court issuing a temporary stay blocking the rule while the court decides how to proceed. Some also wondered why the policy would be impermissible in the face of a historic pandemic.
“This is a pandemic in which nearly a million people have died,” said liberal Justice Elena Kagan. “It is by far the greatest public health danger that this country has faced in the last century. More and more people are dying every day. More and more people are getting sick every day…. And this is the policy that is most geared to stopping all this.”
Chief Justice John Roberts appeared skeptical, though, as to whether the OSHA mandate was specific to the workplace, noting that the administration has sought to enact various mandates.
“Why doesn’t Congress have a say in this … and why isn’t this the primary responsibility of the states?” Roberts asked.
A decision in the case is expected quickly, by top court standards, given the timeliness of the issue.
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