The number of COVID-19 cases in Kahnawake continued to rise on Sunday, a day after local health officials moved the community to its highest alert level due to a drastic increase in cases.
The number of active cases in the Mohawk community located south of Montreal stood at 22 on Sunday, an increase of two cases from the day before. A total of 60 people were in isolation as of Saturday, prompting the move to the "red alert" status.
Kahnawake had no cases on Nov. 21, according to Lisa Westaway, executive director at the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre. Westaway said the number of active cases rose to 22 by Sunday after counting 20 cases within the past 72 hours — including seven reported Friday night into Saturday.
"[July] was the last time we had such a high number of cases all at once," she told CBC News on Saturday.
People aged four and five years old currently make up the highest number of cases in the region, according to the release from Kahnawake's public safety commission and the public health team at the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre.
Outbreaks at Step-by-Step Child and Family Centre daycare and Kateri School in the region were reported this week. The daycare will be closed until Dec. 2 following an outbreak in a second classroom, it announced in a separate release; all staff and children are being asked to get tested.
Westaway said the community won't know the magnitude of the outbreak until the results are in.
"Our community is very interconnected, so family members often work at our schools or organizations, are living with grandparents, so their level of risk is much increased compared to elsewhere," she said.
Public health grapples with contact tracing
Health officials are putting the responsibility on community members to make informed decisions for their own health, warning that anyone participating in group activities should evaluate their level of risk.
"The Kahnawà:ke Public Health team is working tirelessly but is unable to keep up with contact tracing required within an acceptable amount of time to control the current transmission levels, increasing the risk of having contagious individuals with COVID-19 in the community without their knowledge," the statement said.
"A big team effort for a short period of time will help us get control of the outbreaks so that we all can remain safe and healthy, especially with the holidays approaching."
The community adopted a colour-coded system in August. At the red alert level — the system's highest level — it is strongly recommended to:
Limit private gatherings to small groups.
Avoid public indoor and outdoor gatherings.
Wear a mask indoors and outdoors whenever you are with people who do not live with you.
Maintain a two-metre distance between yourself and people who do not live with you.
Efforts to address vaccine hesitancy for parents of young kids
Vaccinations for children aged five to 11 began in the region on Friday, although Westaway said there's a lot of vaccine hesitancy among parents of this age group.
She said physicians are available to answer questions, pet therapy has been deployed to the vaccination site and videos that explain vaccine safety are promoted.
"We're trying to respond to the needs that families have," Westaway said. "We hope to see increases in vaccination rates for that age group and hopefully that will make a difference for the future."
In the local population for those age 12 and over, about 71 per cent of people are fully vaccinated with two COVID-19 vaccines as of Saturday.
The overall numbers for the province of Quebec showed that as of Saturday, 84 per cent of the eligible population in the province — aged five and up — had received one dose of vaccine, and 81 per cent had received two doses.