Thunder Bay

Gull Bay First Nation COVID-19 facility to be operational by Monday

Members of Gull Bay First Nation in northwestern Ontario are hoping to have a separate COVID-19 facility constructed by Sunday, which will help the community tackle a recent outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.

The construction of the facility comes after six people in the community tested positive for COVID-19

Members of Gull Bay First Nation are hoping to have a separate COVID-19 facility constructed by Sunday, which will help the community tackle a recent outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. (Erik White/CBC)

Members of Gull Bay First Nation (GBFN) are hoping to have a separate COVID-19 facility constructed by Sunday, which will help the community tackle a recent outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.

BlueMed Medical staff arrived at GBFN, about 200 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont., on Friday. Construction and commissioning of the new facility is set to take place over the weekend, according to GBFN officials.

'We have been told it will be operational on Monday at which time our current Health Canada nursing staff of two will be augmented by two more nurses, a Nurse Practitioner and a Public Health Contagion Officer," said GBFN Chief Wilfred King, in a media release on Friday.

Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek (Gull Bay First Nation) Chief Wilfred King is concerned about widespread contamination in his community, which is located 200 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. (Nokiiwin Tribal Council)

The temporary negative pressure facility will resemble other air-inflated "bubble structures" similar to those seen in Thunder Bay such as the former soccer dome and bubble at Confederation College, King said.

King explained that GBFN was in favour of the construction and installation of a separate temporary facility in which "COVID-19 related activities" could be carried out, in hopes of preventing any potential transfer of the virus between members who are accessing the Gull Bay Health Centre for other types of medical services.

"I appreciate that it's been difficult for some Citizens of the First Nation to understand all of the working parts and intricacies associated with initiating and carrying out Gull Bay's pandemic plan," said King. "We have absolutely no idea how long GBFN could be impacted during this first wave of Covid-19 or even the second or third wave."

The construction of the facility comes after the community of about 300 people had six members test positive for the COVID-19 virus.

King said with six positive tests, the community's per capita case rate is higher than the national average.

"We feel that this virus came via Lac des Iles mining or Thunder Bay," he said, adding that he is "very disappointed" with the way which the virus has impacted his community.

"If you look at the total cases in northwestern Ontario one third of those come directly from the Lac des Iles mine site, and why the Ford government allowed that mine site to operate as an essential service, I can't understand that."

Community faced with multiple COVID-19 related challenges

Apart from the outbreak itself, King outlined a number of challenges that the community is currently facing, one of which is access to funding.

"The money that was given on the first go around, that was eaten up very quick," King said in an interview with CBC. "We have to get supplies and food and all that sort of thing so that that money that was initially given, you know, dried up pretty quick."

In a statement to CBC Thunder Bay, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) said they are aware and closely monitoring the reported cases of COVID-19 in northern Ontario First Nations, and recognizes the unique response and protection challenges faced by isolated communities.

"The Department remains committed to supporting remote and isolated communities in their emergency response efforts and to ensuring that communities have the necessary supplies, equipment and health care supports in order to respond to cases of COVID-19," read the statement provided by Indigenous Services Canada.

According to ISC, $8 million in COVID-19 emergency funding to support the immediate response needs of Ontario First Nations and Indigenous organizations has been delivered in the last few weeks, in addition to funding announced by the Government of Canada on March 18, 2020.

King said members of GBFN are also experiencing an increased number of unwanted sales calls for a variety of goods and services,  "unscrupulous" individuals setting up charity solicitations using the name of the First Nation, and fake businesses doing charitable email distributions requesting e-transfer donations supposedly on behalf of the community.

"Tragedies such as this bring out the best and the worst in humanity', said King. "I'm happy to relay the reception of the overwhelming outpouring of positive encouragement that we are receiving since yesterday morning's news story broke. It actually made answering the phone impossible for those at the office and for me on my cell."

With files from Gord Ellis and Jeff Walters