North

1st case of COVID-19 reported in Eeyou Istchee region of northern Quebec

The first person in Eeyou Istchee to test positive for COVID-19 is now recovering in a residence in their home community of Nemaska, a community of 850 about three hours drive north of Chibougamau in northern Quebec.

Patient travelled outside of Canada, recovering as community pulls together to reduce risks

A file photo of the Cree Nation of Nemaska's administration building in northern Quebec. The confirmation of the first case of COVID-19 in the Eeyou Istchee region came Thursday evening. (Jaime Little/CBC)

The first person in a Cree community to test positive for COVID-19 is now recovering in a residence in Nemaska, Que., a small community about three hours drive north of Chibougamau in northern Quebec.

The person had travelled outside of Canada and began experiencing symptoms while self-isolating following their return on March 12.

The confirmation of the first case in Eeyou Istchee came Thursday evening, just as Nemaska was preparing to come together for the funeral of a teenage boy. The funeral was scheduled for Friday.

Normally hundreds of mourners would gather for the funeral and feast, with shared food and a long line of people hugging and shaking hands.

Instead of the usual large gathering, Nemaska Chief Clarence Jolly announced that the funeral would be for family only. Community members are now finding other ways to show support for the grieving family.

"It's very sad that it has to be like that," said Bella M. Petawabano, chairperson of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services. "But if we want to protect our loved ones and protect those who are most vulnerable, we have no choice."

One local resident provided a private live video of the service on Friday afternoon, so that community members could grieve together online, each in their own homes. Another resident collected donations for the family via email money transfer, calling it a "love share."

Community members were also invited to show their support for the grieving family by lining up in their vehicles outside the local sports complex. Members of the community will be placing candles by their windows Friday evening as a vigil for the 18-year-old who died.

We're here to save lives and that's what we're going to be doing for the next few months.- Bella M. Petawabano, Cree Board of Health and Social Services chairperson

A more traditional celebration of the young man's life will be held once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, the chief announced.

Meanwhile, public health officials are tracing those who may have been in close contact with the individual who has COVID-19, going back to two days before they began feeling unwell.

Bella M. Petawabano, chairperson of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services, said the individual took all the necessary precautions after returning from their trip. (Christopher Herodier/CBC)

"Eeyou Istchee is a big territory, but we are all connected," Petawabano said. Nemaska has a population of about 850 people, according to the Cree health board's annual report.

Petawabano said the individual took all the necessary precautions after returning from their trip. She added that people know what to do now, after hearing repeated messages about hand washing, physical distancing and self-isolation.

Clinics preparing

Petawabano encouraged those who have concerns or questions about the virus to call the Cree health board's new toll-free number, 1-866-855-2811.

Service will be available in Cree or in English. Anyone experiencing symptoms, such as fever, a new cough and difficulty breathing, should call their local clinic.

"The clinics are getting prepared," Petawabano said. "They know what they need to do. They have the equipment that they need. They are ready."

On Tuesday, the first Cree case of COVID-19 was confirmed. A patient who was already staying in Montreal for medical treatment tested positive.

"We have been preparing for this moment since we heard of COVID-19 in China," said Petawabano, thanking the health-care employees who continue to provide services and prepare for the virus in the territory.

"We're here to save lives and that's what we're going to be doing for the next few months."

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