Cree community moves into lockdown to contain outbreak of COVID-19

Public health officials in northern Quebec are racing to contain an outbreak of COVID-19 linked to several visits and parties over the holidays in the Cree community of Oujé-Bougoumou. 

11 cases confirmed Friday, linked to parties and gatherings over the new year

At least 11 cases of COVID-19 linked to gatherings over the new year have been confirmed in the Cree community of Oujé-Bougoumou, located 750 kilometres north of Montreal. (CBC North/Jaime Little)

Public health officials in northern Quebec are racing to contain an outbreak of COVID-19 linked to several visits and parties over the new year in the Cree community of Oujé-Bougoumou. 

At least 11 cases of COVID-19 have been identified so far linked to gatherings between Dec. 31 and Jan. 7. 

"We also have quite a number of additional people who were identified as being in those settings or in direct contact with those people ... they could be infectious to others," said Colleen Fuller, a public health physician and infectious disease coordinator with the Cree Board of  Health and Social Services of James Bay.

"And so many of those people have now been tested and others will be tested over the course of today and tomorrow."

Fuller said as of Friday, some 25 people had been identified as close contacts of the confirmed cases and another 60 identified as minor contacts.

She also said she expects these numbers to increase in the coming days. Some of the contacts linked to the gatherings in Oujé-Bougoumou are self-isolating in other communities and are being tested for the virus, according to Fuller.

The cases are all linked to one individual, who was confirmed yesterday as the 20th case of COVID-19 in the Cree communities since the pandemic began in March.

Public health officials say the individual likely caught the virus through a visitor who came from a region of risk, although they are continuing to investigate other potential exposures. 

Measures being implemented

Officials are asking anyone who attended parties or gatherings in Oujé-Bougoumou between Dec. 31 and Jan. 7  to immediately self-isolate and contact the COVID-19 information like at 1-866-855-2811. 

The community of 950 has also moved into a general lockdown and imposed a curfew. 

The curfew is in place from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. until January 12th, at which time the need will be reassessed, according to a message issued Friday by the community's chief. 

Curtis Bosum is the Chief of Oujé-Bougoumou. (Cree community of Oujé-Bougoumou)

"It is very important to community members remain calm, confident and vigilant," said Chief Curtis Bosum in a release. 

"We have to be calm so that we can reassure the children and the vulnerable of our community." 

Oujé-Bougoumou doesn't have a grocery store, so residents must travel to nearby non-Cree towns, such as Chibougamau and Chapais. 

On Friday afternoon, Deputy Chief Lance Cooper posted a message to Facebook asking residents to limit trips to these areas to essential supplies only and for only one person per household to go.

Daycares will remain open only for essential workers and all social gatherings are forbidden. The local band office is providing additional assistance for those who have trouble getting groceries. Anyone needing help is asked to call 418-770-1227.

Schools are closed in Oujé-Bougoumou for in-class learning, according to band officials. The Cree School Board also announced Friday afternoon that most in-class learning will be suspended in the nearby Cree communities of Mistissini and Waswanipi.

The exception, according to a release from the Cree School Board is grade 10 and 11 students (sec. 4 and 5). They will have in-class learning on alternating days.

Public health officials are continuing to contact trace people linked to this event, which brings the total of COVID-19 cases in the Cree communities to 31.

The local medical clinic in Oujé-Bougoumou has reduced services to emergencies only so COVID-19 testing can be prioritized.

Cree leadership issued a special bulletin Friday afternoon saying it is essential for people in all the Cree communities to follow the COVID-19 measures and not have gatherings. 

"The recent jump in cases is evidence that we cannot let our guard down," said the message.

Written by Susan Bell with files from Jamie Little