Indigenous

Northern Ontario fly-in First Nation faces 'crisis within a crisis' after second COVID-19 case

A fly-in First Nation in northern Ontario has its second case of COVID-19, creating a "crisis within a crisis" in the community, which is already reeling from the deaths of three members since Sunday, according to the community's leadership.

Eabametoong First Nation was already grappling with death of 3 community members, says councillor

Eabametoong First Nation has recorded its second COVID-19 case. (Katie and Steve Koopman)

A fly-in First Nation in northern Ontario has its second case of COVID-19, creating a "crisis within a crisis" in the community, which is already reeling from the deaths of three members since Sunday, according to the community's leadership.

Eabametoong First Nation Chief Harvey Yesno said the case is extremely worrying because it involves an 80-year-old elder who was mostly homebound, meaning the virus was transmitted to him from someone in the community. 

"He's an old man that doesn't travel.... A lot of relatives come and pay him visits," said Yesno. 

"Somebody would have to carry that virus into that home.... Somebody infected him and it's probably a case of an individual that is probably healthy carrying the virus."

Yesno said the Ojibway band's leadership first caught wind of the case after receiving calls from community members that the nursing station was put on lockdown. The lockdown was prompted because the elder had visited the nursing station twice in the last five days, said Yesno.

The elder was given a medevac flight to Sioux Lookout on Thursday, said Yesno.

Yesno said he's worried that the contact tracing, which is being co-ordinated by the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority, is moving too slowly. He said health officials met at 3 p.m. ET to start putting together a list of people who visited the elder and had been in contact with him and for how long.

"He's from a large family and we need to get on with the contact tracing quickly so we can start doing testing," said Yesno. 

Eabametoong First Nation Chief Harvey Yesno said he fears community spread is the cause of the second COVID-19 case in the community. (Dave McSporran/Bottled Media)

Yesno went on the local radio station at 1 p.m. Friday to announce the positive case to the community of 1,600, which sits about 360 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.

Yesno said the community was already grappling with the death of two members in the community on Sunday and Wednesday. A third community member died outside the community on Monday. The causes of death weren't immediately released, but they were not related to COVID-19.

Yesno said the council has to now determine whether to allow family members from outside the community to attend two funerals now planned for next week.

"We have to decide whether we allow anyone else to come in. That is tough as it is already," he said.

Coun. Andrew Yesno, who was the community's first COVID-19 case and has since recovered, said the news of the second case has increased the pressure on the community. Yesno found out he tested positive on April 5 about a week after returning from Thunder Bay.

"It's been a tragic week," Yesno said in a text message to CBC News. 

 "A crisis within a crisis."

Eabametoong First Nation band Coun. Andrew Yesno says the new COVID-19 case is creating a "crisis within a crisis." (Submitted by Andrew Yesno)

The Thunder Bay District Health Unit reported Friday that a man in his 80s from a First Nation had tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. 

Vanessa Adams, spokesperson for Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, said the department's regional office has been in communication with the community's leadership to ensure that the First Nation is fully stocked with personal protective equipment. 

Adams said in an emailed statement that the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority now leads the co-ordinated "and culturally appropriate contact tracing and case management" for Eabametoong and the 30 other member communities. 

"We will continue to closely monitor the situation and stand ready to provide additional support if needed," the statement said.

Culturally appropriate contact tracing involves using the Ojibway language and a specialized approach to reaching people. 

The authority could not be immediately reached for comment.

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