Five people in Attawapiskat test positive for COVID-19

The James Bay Cree community of Attawapiskat is going into lockdown after five people tested positive for COVID-19.

Public health officials say there was possible exposure to the virus on a flight to Timmins

After five reported cases of COVID-19 in Attawapiskat, people in the James Bay community are being told to stay home, send only one person to the store for essentials and to wear a mask anytime they leave their house. (Erik White/CBC )

The James Bay Cree community of Attawapiskat is going into lockdown after five people tested positive for COVID-19. 

The Weeneebayko Area Health Authority says those infected are self-isolating and public health officials are following up with their close contacts.

Health Authority CEO Lynne Innes says the first case, which was confirmed Dec. 3, is travel related, and the other four are household contacts.

"As far as I know, everybody is isolating, everybody is asymptomatic, and there's no concerns at this time," Innes said. 

"We don't anticipate more coming forward, as this was a travel related incident, it's not community driven, so we don't anticipate further cases. However we do want to stress that we need to follow the public health measures."

'We must all be calm' 

Attawapiskat First Nation says in a release that samples from people who live with those who tested positive have been sent to Moose Factory for rapid testing.

Chief and council are telling the 1,800 people in the isolated fly-in community to stay home, not to accept visitors or go visiting, to wear a mask anytime you leave the house and to "only go to the store for essential items and for one person to go to the store and to only go once."

"We must all be calm during this time," reads the release from the First Nation. 

"We must continue to work together and it will be through all of our collective efforts that we can keep our community safe."

Lynne Innes is the president and CEO of the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority. (Weeneebayko Area Health Authority)

Innes says there is "heightened anxiety" in Attawapiskat, and other remote communities in the region, but she says the fact that community spread appears to have been avoided is proof that strong measures are being followed. 

"It provides reassurance to us as a health authority, and I believe to the region to say, you know the measures that we have taken, and the precautions we've put in, and the measures we've put into place are working, and they are effective."

Exposure risk on flight 

The Porcupine Health Unit has issued a warning of potential high-risk exposure to COVID-19 on a 8:15 a.m. Thunder Air flight from Timmins to Attawapiskat on Nov. 23. 

The airline's president Jim Holm says there were two crew and nine passengers on that flight.

He says the two employees are self-isolating and have not noticed any symptoms and other passengers who flew with them in the last 11 days have been notified.

Thunder Air says the two crew members who flew with a passenger bound for Attawapiskat who later tested positive for COVID-19 are self-isolating now and feeling no symptoms. (Thunder Air )

Holm says this is a nerve-wracking time for a small carrier like Thunder Air. 

"It is. In the airline industry it's not something you want to hear, I guess in any industry it's not something you want to hear. It has an adverse affect on all of the people and the business itself," he says. 

The remote communities of the James Bay Coast have closed their doors to air travelers several times during the pandemic, but were allowing visitors in recent weeks.

Holm says Thunder Air will continue to fly, delivering much needed cargo to the far north. 

Public health officials say there is also a chance of a low-risk exposure at the East Side Mario's in Timmins at around 8 p.m. on Nov. 20 and at Siva's Family Restaurant in Timmins at around 6 p.m. on Nov. 22. 


Erik White


Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to

With files from Sarah MacMillan