Wiikwemkoong COVID-19 outbreak is over

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WIIKWEMKOONG—The pandemic outbreak in Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory has now been declared over. Acting Ogimaa Tim Ominika, the pandemic team and public health made this declaration as of September 1. With that announcement, schools in the community have reopened this week.

Acting Ogimaa Tim Ominika announced on September 1, “the current outbreak that had been declared for Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory on Wednesday, August 4, 2021, is declared over as of today. All 14 cases connected to the original outbreak have been resolved. However, we do have one positive case to announce. This person is currently in self-isolation and was deemed that there was no risk of community spread. Our thoughts and prayers are with this community member.”

“Community programming may continue following all COVID safety protocols, and all band members are encouraged to reach out to their immediate supervisor to find out about work arrangements,” wrote Ogimaa Ominika. 

Michael Staruck, director of education for the Wikwemikong Board of Education (WBE) said in a letter to students, parents/caregivers and WBE staff September 2, “the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory pandemic response team, via Ogimaa Tim Ominika and public health have declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be over in our community the evening of September 1. During the outbreak, for health and safety reasons, we were not able to have educators onsite to prepare the classrooms for our students. Under normal circumstances the educators would have been preparing their classrooms from Monday to Friday this week to receive their students.”

“Our senior administration team has consulted with principals and educators and refocused on a plan that will have our students onsite in their classrooms sooner than September 13,” wrote Mr. Staruck. “The onsite classroom start dates for our students will be Wiikwemkoong High School, Wednesday, September 8, and Wiikwemkoong Junior and Pontiac School, Thursday, September 9.”

“There will not be remote digital learning for students on either Tuesday or Wednesday,” said Mr. Staruck. “Educators will be exclusively focused on planning and preparations to accelerate the date students will be able to return onsite to the classroom.”

“As we prepare for a return to school, it is extremely important we continue to follow the health and safety protocols that have been put in place since last year in our schools to keep students and staff healthy and safe,” wrote Mr. Staruck. “We will continue to reinforce the use of masks and hand hygiene as well and physical distancing with students and staff. All students and staff will continue to conduct a daily screening for symptoms of COVID-19 every day before attending school using the screening form that can be picked up at your child’s school or on our website. As always, any students or staff who do not feel well should not attend school, and should call the health centre.”

“Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory remains under state of emergency, so we ask that you continue to adhere to the travel advisory which states that we avoid non-essential travel. As we have stated before, the safety and well-being of our students is our priority,” continued Mr. Staruck. “We are still navigating through a worldwide pandemic. We want to ensure you that all our staff will strive to make your child’s school year a positive one.”

“I would like to remind our community that as we are still in a pandemic, we ask that all our community members stay at home and only leave for essential purposes,” wrote acting Ogimaa Ominika. “If you are experiencing any symptoms, please self-isolate immediately and call our community nurses for assessment at 705-859-3164.” 

“The mobile vaccination clinic continues for our community,” continued acting Ogimaa Ominika. “Naandwechige-Gamig Wikwemikong Health Centre and public health are holding a mobile vaccination clinic at the Wiikwemkoong arena, Friday September 10, 3:30 to 6:30 pm. No appointment is necessary.”

“Chi-miigwech to our health centre staff, the pandemic team, Ontario Works staff, public works staff, and rental property management staff for the tremendous work you have done during this challenging time. Wiikwemkoong appreciates your work for continuing to keep our community safe,” he continued.

“Chi-miigwech to our community for doing their part in following the recommended health guidelines during this time, keeping Wiikwemkoong safe,” the acting ogimaa added. “The past 16 months have been hard on all of us. If you feel the need to speak to someone, the crisis team is available 24/7 for our community members. You can call them at 705-348-1937.”

“We are going to get through this as a community, we are all in this together. Be smart. Be safe,” he added.

The M’Chigeeng First Nation provided an education update on September 3. “As a result of a potential exposure of COVID-19 at Lakeview School and based on recommendations and advice from health professionals, and the priority of the wellbeing of the children, staff and community, the council supported the delay of the start of the school year to Monday, September 13,” the release states. “This will allow time for Lakeview staff and any identified close contacts to be tested again as a precautionary measure. Lakeview School has revised the 2021-2022 school calendar to reflect the changes in the school year start date as well as the school year end date. A copy of the new school calendar is available on the M’Chigeeng website.”

“M’Chigeeng Binoojiinh Gamgoonhs Early Years Learning Centre (Daycare) will reopen as planned for Tuesday, September 7. The staff will continue to practice stringent measures as approved by the leadership and legislated by the ministry of education as a provincially licenced daycare,” the release continues. “In addition, the morning and after-school program will temporarily be hosted at the Day Care. We would like to thank the Healthy Babies program for collaborating with education to ensure our working parents continue to be supported as we navigate our new reality during the pandemic.

We want to thank parents, guardians and students for continuing to be flexible and understanding as we take the necessary measures to ensure a safe start to our school year. We also want to thank the community at large for respecting the protocols in place in order to protect our vulnerable children, families and members of the community. We ask that you please continue to follow the COVID-19 safety protocols: wear a mask when in public, social distance, wash/sanitize your hands as often as you can, stay home if you are showing any COVID symptoms which include headache, sore throat, runny nose, cough, fever, fatigue, vomiting, abdominal pain, muscle or body aches, chills, loss of smell or taste or just generally feeling unwell.”

“On behalf of the chief and council, Health Services Department and Education Department we thank you again for your patience and continued support to our community’s efforts in keeping safe during this unprecedented time,” the M’Chigeeng statement concludes.