In just over a month, the COVID-19 virus has gone from some far-off threat to an active health risk in the communities of Eeyou Istchee.
There are currently three cases of the virus in two Cree communities – Nemaska and Chisasibi – with another Cree currently fighting the virus in Montreal.
To date, the Cree Health Board has conducted 78 COVID-19 tests, with 36 coming back negative, three positives and 39 pending results.
The first case in Eeyou Istchee was confirmed by the CHB March 26. The infected individual returned home to Nemaska after traveling abroad and was diagnosed during the mandatory 14-day self-isolation period. The second confirmed case in Eeyou Istchee was this person’s travel companion. The third contracted the virus while on a trip to Montreal before returning to Chisasibi. All three cases were confirmed while the individuals were in self-isolation.
Following the first confirmed case, Public Health doctors enacted contact-tracing procedures to inform anyone who had been in close contact with each of the affected individuals. Among the physicians is Dr. Colleen Fuller, who says the process is about containing the virus as thoroughly as possible.
“Usually, there’s a window of time before the individual realizes they have symptoms, when they became infectious before they isolated themselves,” Fuller told the Nation. “Once they’re confirmed to have the virus, we talk with the individual to find out everyone they may have been in contact with two days before they started displaying symptoms.”
Fuller noted that because public awareness regarding the virus is high, sometimes the amount of people needed to get in contact with is relatively small. Other times, not so much.
“For instance, if the individual has been on a plane, we have to obtain a list of everyone on that plane and get in contact with them,” she explained.
When asked how asymptomatic or “silent” carriers of the virus are being accounted for, Fuller said that the way this is portrayed in the media has created some unwarranted fear.
“A lot of infectious diseases can be passed ‘silently,’ so that’s not something that’s new to the control of infectious diseases,” said Fuller. “The fear that anyone at any time could transmit this disease, that’s not really accurate. It does seem that some people have been able to transmit it when they had no symptoms themselves, although often we’re also finding many of these people had very minor symptoms and just thought nothing of it at the time.”
While most of the people she has contacted have handled the news well, Fuller admitted that receiving her call can trigger some anxiety. A hotline has been set up to deal with the psychological toll that being part of the contact trace can have.
At present, the confirmed patients in Eeyou Istchee are in self-isolation in their homes, while the Montreal patient is in isolation at the Espresso Hotel. According to Jason Coonishish, the CHB coordinator of Prehospital and Emergency Measures, they are all doing well.
“We have Public Health officers delivering their daily needs to them without making direct contact,” said Coonishish. “So far, all of the confirmed cases in Eeyou Istchee appear to be mild.”
In their April 1 public statement, the CBH insisted that social distancing is the most important means of preventing the spread of the virus. This includes staying home, maintaining a two- metre distance from people in public, washing hands often, and coughing and sneezing into a tissue or sleeve.
The statement also warned that the Eeyou Eenou Police Force “will continue working closely with Public Health to ensure that orders and restrictions are complied with protecting our communities to the greatest extent possible.”
For Psychosocial Help during the COVID-19 crisis call 1-833-632-4357. For any questions related to COVID-19, contact the Eeyou Istchee COVID-19 Information Line at 1-866-855-2811, or visit eeyouistcheecovid19.org