The chief of a fly-in First Nation in Ontario says local contact tracing of the community’s first COVID-19 case was delayed by at least 24 hours.  

Eabametoong First Nation, a fly-in First Nation of 1,600 about 300 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, was the first northern Ontario First Nation with a positive case, which was reported on April 5. The individual who tested positive arrived in the community from Thunder Bay on March 28 and immediately went into self isolation. 

Chief Harvey Yesno said a “full day or two” went by after the test results came back before contact tracing by the nursing station commenced despite assurances that the investigation began immediately.

“We are trying to get a record of what was done and when,” said Yesno. 

“What they are hiding behind is privacy.”

Eabametoong is awaiting results from eight more tests sent Saturday to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg which are expected back by the end of the week. 

If one or more come back positive, Yesno said this would confirm his fears of an outbreak. He said Ottawa and Ontario have “no plan” to help the community face this scenario.

“We are just flubbing along,” said Yesno.

ISC denies delay

A doctor who was in the community on April 5 ordered contact tracing the moment the case was confirmed, said Yesno. 

“A question was asked, ‘Has the investigation gone on with any contacts?’ Immediately we were told yes,” said Yesno, of a conversation that occurred on the morning of April 6.

Yesno said the band council already knew who had local contact with the positive COVID-19 case. Councillors reached out to them later in the day on April 6 to find out if any had been contacted by the nursing station.

“They said no,” said Yesno. 

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) said contact tracing began immediately on April 5 and ended on April 8. 

A total of 11 people were identified as possible contacts, including five from Thunder Bay, said the department.  

Three of the contacts, who were on a flight from Thunder Bay to Eabametoong on March 28, were traced to the fly-in First Nations of Neskantaga and Webequie and are currently in self-isolation, according to the department. 

Two people walk down a snow covered road in Eabmaetoong First Nation in November 2018. (CBC News)

The other three were traced in Eabametoong and they are in self-isolation, said the department. 

The Thunder Bay District Health Unit followed up with the five contacts in the city, according to ISC. 

A team of six from the First Nations Inuit Health Branch, Ontario’s Ministry of Health and the Sioux Lookout First Nation Health Authority landed in Eabametoong on April 8.  

Yesno said only two nurses came with the team and the other four people arrived to help with contact tracing and training in the use of personal protective equipment. He also said a flight scheduled to pick up samples for testing on April 9 failed to land because of weather.

Eight nurses are currently in Eabametoong and ISC said it is in constant communication with the community’s leadership.  

“Indigenous Services Canada’s regional office is working in close communication with the community to help with case contact tracing and to encourage the practice of physical distancing,” said the department, in an emailed statement.

“We will continue to closely monitor the situation and work with the community to address surge capacity needs.”

Chief repeats call for field hospital

On Sunday, Yesno sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canadian Armed Forces Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance and Ontario Premier Doug Ford requesting a military field hospital for the community. 

The letter said all moderate to mild cases should be treated in the field hospital, limiting medevacs to severe cases “to minimize and expected burden” on Sioux Lookout and Thunder Bay.

The Department of National Defence did not return a request for comment. 

The Ontario government said they were looking into a response.

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