Kashechewan First Nation confirms first COVID-19 related death

Cochrane will be taking in 200 evacuees from Kashechewan, starting Thursday. (File photo)

The Porcupine Health Unit (PHU) reported a COVID-19 related death in the James and Hudson Bay region on Saturday afternoon.

The Weeneebayko Area Health Authority (WAHA) later issued a press release confirming the death was that of a Kashechewan First Nation community member.

“WAHA  has received authorization from the leadership of Kashechewan First Nation to state that this death is in their community,” read the release.

“We wish to offer our sincere condolences to the family, leadership, and community members of Kashechewan.  We send our thought and prayers to you all, praying for peace and strength in the days ahead.”

PHU’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Lianne Catton, also offered her condolences in a news release issued Saturday.

“On behalf of the PHU, I would like to extend my most sincere condolences to the First Nation community, and especially to the family and friends of the deceased,” said Dr. Catton.

On June 13, the federal government deployed Canadian Rangers and nurses along with funding for food, PPE, and testing among other supports.  The assistance came following pleas from community leaders and area representatives urging the government to step-in.

After weeks of calling on the federal government to take action, Timmins-James Bay MPP Charlie Angus penned a letter to Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness MP Bill Blair where he warned of a potential disaster in the community. 

On June 18, the Canadian Press reported that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in a statement from his home, would be sending additional support to Kashechewan and that the army would be remain in the community until at least the end of June.  In the statement, Trudeau also said the deployment of Canadian Rangers to Kashechewan had been approved in late May.

Frustration amongst community leaders over the government’s delayed response also prompted a response from Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller who fielded the critiques by saying the situation was “increasing alarming” and that the outbreak would not have been as severe had the government acted sooner to address the housing inadequacies faced by the community.

In direct response to Chief Leo Friday’s charge that overcrowding, and the government’s lack of response to the problem, was responsible for the spread of COVID-19 in the community, Miller agreed.

"He's absolutely right," Miller said at a June 23 press conference.

"There have been investments. There obviously have not been enough."

Since the community issued a State of Emergency in May 2020, over 200 of those in Kashechewan’s 1500 person population have tested positive for COVID-19, many of them children under the age of 12.

PHU does not release information as it relates to an individual who tests positive for COVID-19, such as age or sex, out of respect for the family. No further information will be released.

If you think you may have COVID-19 symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who has it, first self-isolate and complete the on-line COVID-19 Self-Assessment to determine your next steps.

If testing is required, seek testing through one of the assessment centres across Ontario. You can also call the Porcupine Health Unit at 705-360-4819 or toll-free at 1-800-461-1818.