Six Nations updates pandemic response; schools to re-open in January

Six Nations of the Grand River is updating its pandemic response plan and moving to a colour-coded system that will be updated and reassessed weekly.

Nicole Bilodeau, emergency control group health recovery team lead, unveiled the plan at last Tuesday’s general council meeting.

“Given the new Ontario Covid response framework that moved away from a staged system and towards this colour-coded system, we thought it was time to make our pandemic recovery plan more public and use it so the community and local businesses can be aware of what our status is,” said Bilodeau.

Community health leaders developed indicators that would guide them in determining the colour-coded level of alert for Six Nations for that week.

The new colour-coded system – and the restrictions that come along with it – is stricter than the provincial government’s current colour-coded system.

“They are more strict than the provincial standards,” Bilodeau told elected council. “We’ve tried to fit it as best we could (into) the community context. Our population is at greater risk because of chronic conditions and diseases that are prevalent in our community so we have to be a little more stringent with our measures so we can protect our people.”

Six Nations is currently in the green stage – the lowest level of risk of community Covid transmission.

“We’re tracking at what level of risk our community is on based on several factors, like the virus spread and containment in the community, what our public health system capacity is, what our healthcare system capacity is,” said Bilodeau. “That risk assessment tells us whether we need to increase our restrictions or maintain them or if we’re in a position to decrease.”

She said the colour-coded status would be posted on the Six Nations Website so community members and businesses can look at the status anytime to know the current stage.

Some of the main factors that determine the colour code to make a risk assessment include:
-current virus spread and containment, ie, how many cases per week,
-is there a trend toward increasing cases
-whether or not the cases are tied to community transmission
-the number of outbreaks
-if the Six Nations Covid Community Assessment Centre is at capacity or not, how many calls they’re getting, and if potential patients are asymptomatic, as well as the ability of staff to handle the volume of calls coming in

“We’re also looking at healthcare capacity in surrounding hospitals, such as acute cases and regular bed occupancy and ICU occupancy,” she said. “We get those reports from surrounding area hospitals. If we see they’re at or above critical levels of capacity, that would be a huge red flag for us, since we rely on those healthcare systems.”

The new plan will also look at the capacity of Six Nations Public Health to conduct adequate contact tracing, community compliance, and the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline staff.

“If we get a lot of reports there have been a lot of parties or gatherings, things like that, that would be an indicator that we would measure subjectively,” said Bilodeau. “Every week we’re looking at all those indicators and making a weekly risk assessment. Right now, we’re in low risk. We have (as at Nov. 24), two active cases. There’s no widespread outbreaks or clusters occurring. Our public health system is good, our PPE is good, the assessment centre is good – that’s why we would assess it as low risk this week.”

At the height of outbreak in in October, when dozens of cases were circulating around the community, it was a high-risk situation because of the high incidence of community transmission, she said.

“We did have some concerns about the capacity of our systems to be able to handle it but luckily,” she said, Six Nations was able to handle it. That spike in cases was short-lived.

The risk assessment has four categories – low, moderate, high or very high. The level of risk will inform the actions of Six Nations Public Health Officials. A high risk assessment would mean an immediate lockdown for the community. Additionally, said Bilodeau, if the surrounding communities of Brant or Norfolk went into lockdown, Six Nations would also go into lockdown.

“The measures we’re proposing are much stricter than Ontario’s,” said Bilodeau. “Some of their measures are too lax for us. We need to be a little bit more strict with our measures to make sure we’re operating at lowest risk as possible.”

Right now, Six Nations public health is recommending no gatherings with anyone outside an individual’s immediate household.

“We know that people aren’t always going to follow that,” she said. “But it really is the best way to contain the virus with anyone you don’t live with.”

Six Nations health officials are also working on a daycare and school re-opening strategy. Six Nations’ federal schools have remained closed since March 2020.

“Public Health has been involved in all those strategy sessions,” said Bilodeau. “Right now, the plan is for the schools to open in January.”

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