Early this week, the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre (KMHC) confirmed that the COVID-19 Delta variant was present in the community and there was a lot of concern over its spread.
The two separate outbreaks that emerged in Kahnawake over the last month were majority Delta variant cases.
There are now 14 active cases of COVID-19 in Kahnawake, an increase of four in the last week. Ten people are in isolation. Most of the active cases are from the second outbreak, with only a few remaining from the first outbreak.
Lisa Westaway, executive director at KMHC, said the Delta variant cases in the community are extremely worrisome.
“Both clusters involve the Delta variant, which is concerning because we’re probably one of the few areas in Quebec that has such a high number of cases related to the Delta variant,” Westaway said.
“What we learned from these two situations is that the Delta variant is extremely transmissible, almost like chickenpox,” she said. “Basically, almost everyone who was a contact of these Delta cases became positive. It’s a whole new ball game. It’s not like the original COVID-19.”
Within the two outbreaks that occurred, hundreds of people were impacted, and many had to isolate. The outbreaks hit the Kahnawake Minor Baseball League, Be.you.tiful Hair Salon, Matty’s Park and several other locations in the community.
The first outbreak caused over 30 individuals to test positive for the virus. The current outbreak is not as significant since most of the people impacted by this outbreak were fully vaccinated, according to Westaway.
In each of those outbreaks, only two who were fully vaccinated contracted COVID-19, while everyone else who was infected was not vaccinated or only partially vaccinated.
“You can still get COVID-19 when you’re fully vaccinated,” said the executive director. “But the goal of vaccinations is to keep people from being hospitalized and dying.”
“Getting vaccinated is still the best way to protect yourself and the community.”
Lloyd Phillips, the commissioner of Public Safety, said the outbreak of the Delta variant in the community is a stark reminder that the pandemic is not over.
“COVID-19 is still here, and now the Delta variant is here,” Phillips said. “We need to break the current trend we’re on.”
Phillips explained that while they don’t want to overreact, they must react to what’s happening.
“Our first course of action is reminding the community to be vigilant and the importance of vaccination. That’s still our best line of defence,” he said.
“We don’t want to start imposing further restrictions because no one wants to go down that path, but we need to react to this warning that we got so that we break the trend, and we don’t continue seeing further outbreaks.”
The commissioner stressed that ultimately the onus is on community members.
Dawn Montour Lazare, Outpatient Department manager at KMHC, reinforced during the Facebook live update that the Delta variant is much more transmissible than the original COVID-19 strain.
Lazare explained that with the original COVID-19 strain, the rate of transmission was one person infecting two people. The Delta variant is one person possibly infecting eight people.
She also emphasized the importance of vaccination.
“No vaccine is 100 percent effective,” said Lazare. “The goal of vaccinations historically is to prevent complications and deaths,” she said. “There’s a lot of different diseases that have been prevented through vaccination like polio, measles, chickenpox, meningitis.”
Updating health measures
Phillips stated that while drastic measures are not yet being implemented, there would be some modifications to current health measures in place in the community.
Individuals must now wear a mask in shared common areas like office spaces or conference rooms, even if a six-feet distance can be kept.
Additionally, individuals outdoors that are not vaccinated where six-feet distance can’t be maintained must also wear a mask.
Masks indoors remain mandatory to everyone, and businesses that host patrons like restaurants, bars or clubs must keep a registry of contact information for possible contact tracing.
The community will remain in alert level green.
“This is our first level of response,” Phillips said. “We don’t want to have to consider alternate options.”
“We had many people placed in isolation. However, if it wasn’t for our vaccination rate, it would have been detrimental. Vaccination is the key to moving forward. If they weren’t vaccinated, the outcome could’ve been much worse,” he said.
As of August 3, 78 percent of the community aged 12 and older have received one dose, and 68 percent are fully vaccinated, according to Phillips.
“There’s always room to increase those numbers, and the higher the percentage of our community that is vaccinated, then the less probability in having to take any further restrictive measures in the community,” Phillips said.
Westaway also confirmed that last week, KMHC held three days of vaccination and one this week.
“We’re going to continue with our communication strategy regarding all health measures and the importance of vaccination,” Westaway said.
“Our next step is to look at school openings and how we can do that in a safe way. We’re also going to revisit public health measures regarding our businesses and organizations.”
The executive director hopes sometime in the fall, the age group 12 and under will be approved for vaccination.
Regarding a possible vaccine passport, Westaway said nothing is confirmed. She said anything is possible.
“We don’t know what the future holds, but we can say what’s happening in Kahnawake is a warning for us to be prepared,” she said. “We’re still in discussions, but anything is possible.”
Phillips, who said Kahnawake’s latest numbers meant the community had the highest per capita rate of the Delta variant in the province, agreed that it’s something that will be considered.
“Nobody wants to see lockdowns again, including myself, or further restrictions,” he said.
“If it comes down to a choice of having to close things down or lockdown versus having people prove their vaccination status, I will certainly lean on the side of proof of vaccination.”