60 people ordered to self-isolate after party in northern Quebec Cree community

·2 min read

Officials in the Cree community of Waskaganish say a house party involving someone ordered to self-isolate has caused unnecessary worry and has resulted in 60 people self-isolating to protect the community.

Public safety and police officers from the Eeyou-Eenou Police Force went to a private home as they responded to a complaint on the evening of Nov. 1.

They found eight people having a social event involving alcohol with someone who had just returned from Montreal. The city is an "at risk" zone and the Cree Nation government requires people who travel from at risk zones to self-isolate for 14 days as a precaution.

Contact tracing identified 60 people who were in close enough contact with those at the gathering, according to Ryan Erless, the director of community services for Waskaganish, a community of about 3,000 people on James Bay, about 1,200 kilometres north of Montreal.

He said all 60 contacts were to remain in self-isolation until further notice and that the person who travelled to the community from Montreal has been tested for COVID-19.

'If it hits, it will just devastate the community because we have very limited resources to handle an outbreak.' - Ryan Erless, director of community services for Waskaganish

"That one [event] made a ripple effect...like you throw a rock in a pond," said Erless, adding the community is working closely with Cree Public Health.

"If it hits, it will just devastate the community, because we have very limited resources to handle an outbreak," he said, adding the individuals at the party were in their 30s and should have known better.

"This COVID-19 pandemic is not a joke."

Overcrowding makes it worse

Erless said the situation is made more serious by the overcrowding that exists in many houses. He said the community isn't able to provide spaces for people to isolate away from their families, which is creating a lot of concern.

"You have grandparents, parents, husbands or wives and brothers and sisters who are affected," said Erless. He said there are also people affected by this one incident that work in public health and school board, among others.

CBC North/ Jaime Little
CBC North/ Jaime Little

Eeyou Eenou police officers have the ability to hand out fines to people who break COVID-19 restrictions in Quebec Cree communities. It is unclear whether the people who attended the party in Waskaganish were fined.

"It's almost a wake-up call to the entire community," said Erless, adding he doesn't want the individuals at the party to be targeted. He said some who attended the party didn't know the person was on the self-isolation list.

"It just shows the importance of being vigilant and taking precautions for the health and safety of our people ... especially our elders," said Erless.