Akwesasne’s Tsiionkwanonhso:te long-term care facility is among a growing number of care homes coping with a COVID-19 outbreak during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ten residents and 10 staff members tested positive for the virus at the facility in recent weeks. While seven of the cases have since resolved in the last few days, the outbreak still makes up nearly half of active cases in the northern portion of Akwesasne. One resident has died.

“It’s trying times,” said Mohawk Council of Akwesasne Grand Chief Abram Benedict.

“It’s very unfortunate.”

The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne’s (MCA) Community Health Program reports 26 active cases of COVID-19, with seven new cases reported Wednesday. The community, which straddles the Ontario, Quebec, and New York borders, also has seven active cases in the southern portion of the territory.

“Cases continue to rise all around us. Now we’ve had a death in the facility, which is very unfortunate,” said Benedict.

“It really put a lot of pressure on the organization, our health department, and our front line health-care workers at this point.”

The community health program said in a community notice this week that it is working closely with the Eastern Ontario Health Unit and the Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care to safeguard the health of the community.

Residents and staff are being screened for symptoms twice daily, high touch surfaces are being cleaned four times a day, and infection prevention and control protocols are regularly being revisited. Restrictions on visitations remain in place.

‘Light at the end of the tunnel’

The staff is extremely committed to upholding their responsibilities and taking care of our residents. They feel the pressure. We’re all quite tired and they’re no doubt more tired than us because they’re really in the thick of it now,” said Benedict.

“We continue to support the staff and all the residents and the families. A number of residents, they all have families and extended family so they’re equally as anxious as everybody else is. So we’re really taking it day by day.”

Tsiionkwanonhso:te, a long term care facility in Akwesasne, is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. (Submitted by Mohawk Council of Akwesasne)

Benedict was notified this week that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be made available to Akwesasne in the next two weeks, and will be offered to the residents and health-care workers in both of Akwesasne’s long-term care homes.

“It feels like a light at the end of the tunnel. But, everything else around us right now is mounting,” said Benedict.

Unique challenges

Since the pandemic started, there’s been 150 cases of COVID-19 in Akwesasne. The community’s geographic situation has posed some challenges in pandemic response, said Benedict.

The community falls under two different public health agencies: the Eastern Ontario Health Unit in the north and New York state’s Franklin County Public Health Department in the south.

Mohawk Council of Akwesasne Grand Chief Abram Benedict. (Submitted by the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne)

“It’s super unique and challenging here because we’re right on the border and the approach south of us is a little bit different than it is north of us,” he said.

In November, the MCA reinstated a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. in an effort to curb coronavirus spread from gatherings but otherwise has not yet enforced any new restrictions.

“The challenge we face, though, is that really to be effective, they have to be community-wide approaches and that includes the American side under the [Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe] jurisdiction. We haven’t had, at this point, any consensus on any additional restrictions,” said Benedict.

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