Go to main menu Go to main content Go to footer

Health ᒥᔪᐱᒫᑎᓰᐧᐃᓐ

Investigation into Covid-19 outbreak among Cree patients, staff at Montreal hotel concluded

BY Ben Powless Sep 25, 2020

Three confirmed cases of Covid-19  have been tied to Wiichihiituwin clients and staff in Montreal. 

According to the Cree Health Board, a Wiichihiituwin patient from Eeyou Istchee staying at the Espresso Hotel tested positive for Covid-19 September 10. A non-clinical staff member of the health service – a Montreal resident – also received a positive test result. 

A contact of one of the first two individuals likewise tested positive for Covid-19. That person is a resident of Eeyou Istchee.

At press time, all individuals were in isolation in Montreal under medical supervision, with both Cree community members in isolation at the Espresso Hotel, which itself went into lockdown.

Over 270 people who had been at the Espresso hotel between September 1-9 were called by the contact tracing team. Of the total 143 clients and escorts were still at the hotel, while 83 clients  and escorts staying at the hotel  had returned home to Eeyou Istchee. 51 employees of Wiichihiituwin were also involved in the trace.  

“After wide-scale testing within this group, we found no other cases of Covid-19,” read a September 17 statement from the CBH. “No one else has developed any concerning symptoms during the investigation. We were also able to identify a common, external source of exposure to the virus for all three people who tested positive. All these elements allow us to safely end the investigation of this cluster of cases.”

This brings the number of Eeyou Istchee residents who have tested positive for Covid-19 up to 12, at a time when many jurisdictions across Canada are seeing infection rates increase dramatically. 

However, many of those who were staying at the Espresso took to Facebook to post about their concerns and frustrations as the hotel stopped cleaning rooms and prohibited use of public areas, including public laundry rooms.

The Nationspoke to a Waskaganish man, who asked to remain anonymous, staying at the hotel with his partner and child.

The family arrived in Montreal in August for a medical appointment for their young son, originally staying at the Chrome Hotel and moving to the Espresso Hotel after those appointments were done.

The family was supposed to return September 11, but lockdowns were put in place after a positive case was found the previous day, preventing dozens of hotel guests from returning home.

“The hotel has been frustrating,” he said, adding that his partner had a panic attack over the measures. 

“They locked everything down, even where you wash laundry. They brought us cups of laundry detergent and told us to wash our laundry in the bathtub.” 

Patients were only allowed outside for smoke breaks or for medical appointments. Even then, security guards record when people come and go. 

Still, there’s been some good news. The family recently tested negative, again, for Covid-19. 

Now with the investigation concluded, they, along with all the other patients and escorts who tested negative, will be returning home starting Saturday September 19.

After doing so though, they’ve been told they’ll still need to isolate, either at home or in a hotel set up for that purpose. “We just want to be home,” concluded the Waskaganish man.

“This was a very challenging and stressful event for everyone, and we thank every person involved in the response, from patients to escorts to staff,” read the September 17 CBH statement. “The personal contributions and sacrifices that each of you made, and your tremendous cooperation, were key to preventing any further transmission of the virus.”

CBH Vice-Chairperson Christine Petawabano echoed that sentiment in a statement from earlier in the week, saying the board has heard the concerns and is working to address the situation. “Wiichihiituwin will continue to adapt and increase services at Espresso, to make them more comfortable for clients in self-isolation,” she said.  

This includes hiring new kitchen staff to improve the quality of food services, increased cleaning schedules and protocols for all rooms, and new appliances and equipment in all rooms, including for laundry.

Petawabano also stressed the need for self-isolation as one of the most effective measures to prevent spreading the virus to Eeyou Istchee.

“The number of days you spend in isolation are being noted. When you go home, the isolation you have completed at Espresso will be taken into account. The health board asks you to be patient, and to reach out if you need to talk to someone,” Petawabano said. The Wiichihiiwaawin Helpline is available at 1-833-632-4357.

A CBH document stressed that a seven-day isolation period in Montreal prior to a seven-day isolation period in the community may prove helpful in diagnosing potential Covid-19 cases before returning to communities while also providing better access to health services in case someone tests positive.

If an individual fails to respect the seven-day isolation period in Montreal they will be required to complete the full 14-day isolation period when they return to their community. 

The CBH added Quebec City, the Eastern Townships and Outaouais/Gatineau to areas now considered a risk – in addition to Montreal, Laval and the Lanaudière, Laurentian and Montérégie regions. Everywhere outside of Quebec is also considered at risk, except for the regions of Sudbury, Porcupine and Timiskaming. 

Eeyou Istchee otherwise continues in phase 4 of the deconfinement plan.

Across Canada, Covid-19 cases continued to rise, as new infections approached nearly 1,000 a day, a rate not seen since May. About a third of those new cases were in Quebec. 

Canada’s total amount of cases approached 140,000 as the global total moved past 29 million. Over 9,200 people have died from Covid-19 in Canada, compared to over 930,000 globally.

LATEST ᒫᐦᒡ ᑎᐹᒋᒧᐧᐃᓐ

Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.