Prioritized testing helps Walpole Island identify cases

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(Image courtesy Google Maps)

Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative

Walpole Island First Nation has recorded its first two positive cases of COVID-19 over the weekend, and more are expected to come.

On April 1, the community restricted non-resident travel over the Walpole Island bridge, with exception to those seeking essential services.

James Jenkins, director of operations, said they were not surprised to have positive cases despite the extra precautions and were behaving as if there were already cases present because members still cross to grocery stores in neighbouring municipalities.

Jenkins said First Nations are recognized as having a higher number of pre-existing conditions, therefore, the government has recently decided to prioritize their communities for testing.

“It’s easier to get a test now that they are eligible. We are expecting a higher number of positives. Which is good because then we have the ability to track it,” he said.

To date, 10 tests have been issued to Walpole Island residents, six of which came back negative and two are still pending results.

Around 2,800 live in the community full-time.

Testing for residents was difficult because of lack of transportation and access to a family doctor, issues which Walpole Island had been previously trying to address and improve.

“With the limited number of tests, members had difficulty going through all the steps like getting a physician’s referral or a visit to ER,” Jenkins said. “But that’s changed over the last several weeks; everyone is eligible if they’re experiencing symptoms.”

Jenkins said they have streamlined the local food bank and opened it up to all community members to ensure everyone has support.

He said they are still investigating where the cases came from but it was likely contact from outside communities during essential trips.

The two individuals are self-isolating. Family and friends have also been ordered to self-isolate and provided with personal protective equipment to avoid transmission.

“Our hearts and thoughts are with our community members and their families at this time. We encourage them to reach out for whatever they may need and wish them a speedy recovery,” Chief Dan Miskokomon said.

“We also want to remind our community to stay vigilant and stay home unless they have to leave the house for things like food or medicines. Please practice physical distancing if you do have to go out. Your actions right now can save lives.”

Walpole Island residents who are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms can contact the Health Centre 519-627-0765 or Telehealth after hours or on weekends at 1-877-797-0000.

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