Thunder Bay

COVID-19 cases in Gull Bay First Nation are resolved; chief apprehensive about reopening of Lac des Iles mine

An outbreak of COVID-19 within Gull Bay First Nation in northwestern Ontario has been resolved, but the community continues to remain "diligent" as threats of virus continue to linger.

Gull Bay First Nation has not reported any new COVID-19 cases in the last three weeks

Gull Bay First Nation had eight positive cases in the community of about 300 people, all of which are now considered to be resolved. (David Jackson/Reuters)

An outbreak of COVID-19 within Gull Bay First Nation in northwestern Ontario has been resolved, but the community continues to remain "diligent" as threats of virus continue to linger.

Gull Bay First Nation first reported six cases of COVID-19 in April, and eventually reported a total of eight cases among the community of about 300 people.

"We're crossing our fingers, we're hoping that we've got a handle on the situation, but again you know, this disease it'll be coming in waves...so we're sort of making sure that we're being diligent about our activities in the community," said Wilfred King, chief of Gull Bay First Nation, in an interview with CBC News.

King said heading into the summer, any kind of activities and large events have been cancelled within the community, but essential services are still operating, including a COVID-19 testing facility. 

Medical staff arrived in the community, which is located about 200 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont., once positive cases of the virus were reported in April.

"Because of our proximity to Thunder Bay and Lac Des Iles mine, we feel that it's important that the facility stays in the community as long as it can," he said.

The mine is about an hour drive away from Gull Bay First Nation, where some community members work, said King.

"We had eight positive cases in Gull Bay and we had 103 results come back negative. So we haven't had any new cases in three weeks," said King.

Since April, King has said the outbreak of COVID-19 cases within the Gull Bay community likely came from Thunder Bay or the mine, which had an outbreak that was linked to 25 cases of the virus, including one death.

There were 25 confirmed cases of COVID-19 linked to exposures at Lac Des Iles mine, including a man in his 50s who "died due to complications from COVID-19 and underlying health conditions. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

Impala Canada, the company which owns and operates the Lac Des Iles mine, has released its plan to reopen the mine, with an expectation of returning to full operations on Tuesday.

King said he is "apprehensive" about the mine reopening, due to the belief that the outbreak in the community was due to miners coming into the community or from Thunder Bay.

"They're taking their direction from (Ontario's northern development and mines) Minister [Greg] Rickford and [he] is giving them the green light to go ahead and reopen….against the wishes of the community they just went ahead and proceeded to go with reopening the mine," said King.

King added that since the eight cases of COVID-19 were resolved, members of the community have not been in contact with provincial or federal governments.

"Gull Bay First Nation has removed themselves from that process. The reason being is that we're not included in the plan of care for our community, and this is a decision by Health Canada that because of confidentiality issues they said that they couldn't release any information to chief and council," said King.

He added that chief and council "walked away" from "the process" over two weeks ago, and that it has been frustrating to work with the federal government on the issue.

"We said, well if we're not going to be part of the solution then we don't want no part of the responsibility," he said. "We felt you know this is a pandemic, community safety is a real issue for us and we felt that we needed to be involved in that process and they felt that we didn't have to be involved because of confidentiality of patients."

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