Indigenous

2 more COVID-19 cases in Eabametoong First Nation, chief worried about possible outbreak

The chief of a fly-in Ojibway First Nation in northern Ontario said the community is facing a possible COVID-19 outbreak after two more tests came back positive on Monday night. 

Chief Harvey Yesno says full community lockdown now planned

The Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority says Eabametoong First Nation is facing a 'cluster' of cases and that there is evidence of in-community transmission. (Katie and Steve Koopman)

The chief of a fly-in Ojibway First Nation in northern Ontario said the community is facing a possible COVID-19 outbreak after two more tests came back positive on Monday night. 

Eabametoong First Nation Chief Harvey Yesno said he plans to ask the band council to implement a lockdown of the community for the next two weeks. 

"We will be discussing a total lockdown... It's going to be severe," he said.

The two new cases emerged from two rounds of testing as a result of contact tracing triggered by a positive COVID-19 result last week. 

That case, an 80-year-old, mostly house-bound elder, was flown to the Sioux Lookout, Ont., hospital Thursday. 

Eabametoong is a community of about 1,600 and sits about 360 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. 

Evidence of 'in-community transmission'

The Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority is leading the community's COVID-19 response after taking over the duties from Indigenous Services Canada on May 19. 

Dr. John Guilfoyle, the authority's public health physician, said in an emailed statement that Eabametoong is facing a "cluster" of cases and that there is evidence of in-community transmission.

"Contact tracing continues as we try to get out ahead of this," Guilfoyle said.

The health authority previously said it had provided Eabametoong with 500 swabs for COVID-19 testing and the community is fully stocked with personal protective equipment. 

Guilfoyle said in an interview Monday that a team is already in place to deal with contact tracing and COVID-19 case management.

"We have taken pains to have that capacity to be ready for exactly having these circumstances," said Guilfoyle.

The health authority chartered planes over the weekend to transport swabs to the Sioux Lookout Ya Win Health Centre, which has the capacity to rapidly process a limited number of COVID-19 tests. 

'We are not ready'

Yesno said the first round of 12 contact tracing tests that included two of the elder's family members and the rest were from health staff, came back negative.

Yesno said the elder was most likely infected through community spread and that the elder was recently at a camp with a large number of family members.

Harvey Yesno is chief of Eabametoong First Nation in Ontario. (Dave McSporran/Bottled Media)

Eabametoong now has recorded a total of four COVID-19 cases. The first case, in early April, was a band councillor who appeared to have been infected in Thunder Bay and has since recovered. 

Yesno said the community currently does not have an isolation centre, despite plans to use the youth hall which he said was turned down by the community's health authorities. 

Eabametoong is currently using its community hall as an assessment centre and there is a medical tent that could also be used, but it has no water hook up, he said. 

"Even if we convert the gymnasium, we would need a lot of equipment," he said.

"We are not ready."

The community is currently still under a long-term boil water advisory because its new water treatment plant is still not operational and one of its two drinking water stations needs maintenance. Eabametoong also faces widespread overcrowding with an average of a little more than six people per house, making it difficult to self-isolate, said Yesno.

The community currently has at least seven nurses on the ground, and one is dedicated exclusively to dealing with COVID-19 cases, he said. The nursing station is also under a partial lockdown for emergencies only and Yesno said he's concerned community members with other ailments won't be able to get the help they need. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's investigative unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him jorge.barrera@cbc.ca.

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