Rapid COVID-19 testing arrives on the James Bay, remote mining camps in northern Ontario

The hospital in Moose Factory is quickly processing test samples from the outbreak in Attawapiskat and Songbird Lifescience has sold its rapid testing system to some of the region’s remote mining camps. 

Attawapiskat COVID-19 outbreak contained, health authority says

The lawyers for Attawapiskat say that most of the 16,000 mining claims in the Ring of Fire fall within their traditional territory. (Erik White/CBC)

Rapid COVID-19 testing has arrived in northern Ontario.

The hospital in Moose Factory is quickly processing test samples from the outbreak in Attawapiskat and Songbird Lifescience has sold its rapid testing system to some of the region's remote mining camps. 

But Dave Bullock, general manager of Songbird Lifescience, says they've had much more interest in their product from other provinces such as Manitoba. 

"Ontario is an example of a province that is moving a little slower on it and too slow to be honest with you," Bullock said. "We really need to embrace the fact that we now have the technology for rapid testing."

"It's affordable, can be deployed anywhere and it's an incredibly powerful part of a health defence strategy."

Bullock says their testing technology allows for a patient to know if they have COVID-19 in a just a few hours, where many are currently waiting for several days. 

He says they are also doing rapid testing at some remote mining camps in the north, while remote communities in other provinces have already used the technology.

Lockdown effective

Meanwhile, Lynne Innes, the president and CEO of the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority, says it appears so far that Attawapiskat has avoided community spread of COVID-19.

Five cases were reported in the remote James Bay community on Thursday.

Innes says the first case was travel-related, and the other four are household contacts. Other contacts have been notified and are isolating, including passengers on a flight from Timmins to Attawapiskat on November 23. 

"There's a lot of heightened anxiety because you never really know where it is and how it's contained because of patient confidentiality," Innes said. " And we tried our best to try to keep everything contained as well as the community safe without exposing and identifying who the family is."

Innes says community spread appears to have been avoided, thanks to strong local public health measures. 

"It provides reassurance to us as a health authority, and I believe to the region to say 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," Innes said. 

Chief and council in Attawapiskat asked residents on Thursday to limit outings to essentials only– and only one person per household. 

There have been long lines outside the stores and a siren in the community announces the start of 9 p.m. curfew every evening.

This hasn't been easy for the remote First Nation. 

That includes Lindy Shisheesh, who lives with 14 other members of his household, including seven children and two very young grandchildren. 

"And I tell my kids. 'Don't go out. Please don't do anything behind my back, go see somebody," Shisheesh said. "I tell them, I beg my kids not to go anywhere. Because of the seriousness of this COVID."

Even though the news only broke on Friday, it has now been more than two weeks since the infected people returned to Attawapiskat from Timmins.