Kahnawake back on Red Alert as COVID-19 cases spread among children under 5

Kahnawake is on Red Alert after active coronavirus cases spiked in recent days, mostly among children aged four to five – a demographic which, in large part, remains unvaccinated.

Four classes have closed across local daycare and preschool Step-by-Step Child and Family Centre and Kateri School, officials say, with more closures possible. At the moment, authorities have recorded 19 active cases, and 60 people remain in isolation.

There may be even more cases which haven’t yet been found, the Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) community’s health officials told CTV News, as the network strains to identify all possible contacts.

“We don’t know the magnitude (of the outbreak) until we get results,” said Natalie Beauvais, executive director of Step by Step.

While children at the daycare are separated by bubbles, “we have siblings and cousins and step-sisters and brothers in other classrooms,” said Beauvais, who spoke to CTV while isolating at home.

“We don’t know what impact there is on other classes,” she said. “We were told by public health that everyone should get into isolation.”

While there have been occasional outbreaks, Kahnawake has been able to avoid widespread infection since the pandemic began, despite being located across the river from Montreal.

“For over the past two months, we’ve been averaging about five (active) cases, give or take,” said Kahnawake Public Safety Commissioner Lloyd Phillips. “We came close to zero last week.”

But since this most-recent outbreak was identified, Phillips says public health is “overwhelmed with the sheer number of contacts” needed to be identified, calling the situation “alarming.”

“Due to a number of cases all at once, we're having a hard time with contact tracing and informing all the people who could be impacted,” he said. “And thereby, you could potentially have somebody who has COVID-19 and doesn't know it, and could be in the community spreading it.”

It’s that fear that prompted the community to declare the Red Alert – the highest level in Kahnawake’s urgency tier.

Under the red alert level, the community council “strongly recommends” social distancing, limiting gatherings to two households at a time, and wearing a mask around people from other households, both inside and out. 

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