Thunder Bay

Travel becoming a COVID-19 risk for northwestern Ontario First Nations as case numbers rise

As two First Nations in northwestern Ontario have been affected by COVID-19 cases over the last couple of weeks, there is growing caution about the risks of travel.

Health authority believes cases may be linked to Thunder Bay, where there has been a spike in COVID-19

Lac Seul First Nation has reported 11 positive COVID-19 cases since late November. (Robert Short/CBC)

As two First Nations in northwestern Ontario have been affected by COVID-19 cases over the last couple of weeks, there is growing caution about the risks of travel.

Lac Seul First Nation has had 11 cases reported over the last couple of weeks, with eight of those active as of Wednesday.

Lac Seul leadership has initiated the orange level of its pandemic response plan, which includes virtual learning for community elementary schools and high school students.

Derek Maud, the community emergency management coordinator for Lac Seul, said the spread appears to have happened in a classroom and the cases have largely been contained to three households.

There are still some outstanding tests, Maud said, but there is a sense of optimism that the situation has been contained.

In Sandy Lake First Nation, several people are isolating after an individual at a community Christmas Dinner gathering in Winnipeg tested positive.

According to the First Nation's pandemic response Facebook page, all individuals who attended that gathering and returned to the community, including their households, have all been required to isolate for 10 days.

Testing important after travel

Dr. Lloyd Douglas, a public health physician for the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority, said he believes the increase in cases may be linked to travel to Thunder Bay, where there has been a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

"We need to continue with the surveillance testing measures for individuals who are coming back to the community," Douglas said in an interview with CBC News.

"So right now, we recommend that individuals who are coming back to the community get a test upon arrival and a test on day seven. That has been key to really finding a COVID very early on and really helped us to really find out if someone brought COVID back to the First Nation."

Sandy Lake has declared Thunder Bay to be a high risk COVID-19 area and has implemented a seven-day quarantine requirement for anybody travelling from the city upon their arrival in the community.

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