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First cases of COVID in Kanesatake

Maria Canatonquin took no chances and closed her store for safety reasons.(VIRGINIE ANN THE EASTERN DOOR)


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Last Saturday, Kanesatake’s roughly five months of being a COVID-19-free territory came to an end as five people contracted the virus.

“We were informed initially by some of the individuals and then by the Quebec health authorities,” said Emergency Response Unit (ERU) spokesperson Robert Bonspiel. Anyone who was in contact with the individuals were instantly made aware of the situation and sent to get tested, before being asked to remain in isolation for 14 days by Public Health authorities.

Kanesatake’s positive cases were reported at the end of the same week that St. Eustache Hospital, less than 30KM away, declared an outbreak. Since July 27, 14 patients and 11 employees have tested positive while the rest of the hospital staff is currently being tested.

One of Kanesatake’s positive cases, community member Rycki Etienne, visited his mother in St. Eustache Hospital on July 25, right before visits were banned due to the outbreak. Earlier in July, his mom Mavis Etienne had suffered a stroke and was taken to the hospital. Two weeks later, while being asymptomatic, she tested positive for COVID-19.

“It’s out there, no matter what,” said Rycki, who tested positive on July 29 and will be clear to leave his house on August 14. “I was always covered and wearing gowns with gloves when I was visiting my mother, but I still contracted it. It shows it’s really easy to get.”

He has been working at the Onen’to:kon Healing Lodge for more than 32 years, and is now in complete isolation. The lodge was also closed as a precaution.

As an asymptomatic person, the virus itself hasn’t been the hardest part to deal with, but rather keeping in touch with his mother now that she’s been moved to the special COVID-19 patient’s hospital in Laval at Cite-de-la-sante.

“I watch a lot of TV and movies,” he said. “I check Facebook and when my mother can make a phone call we can communicate, but she doesn’t have a lot of access at the hospital she’s at.”

Friends and family also drop food off for him at his doorstep to help him during this tough time.

Rycki’s cousin Sharon Simon also contracted the virus after visiting Mavis in St. Eustache Hospital, and was feeling quite frustrated.

“I was not happy, shocked, even a bit angry that the hospital let me go visit my aunt knowing there was COVID problems there,” said Simon.

Simon was called by a nurse from the Quebec government assigned to investigate COVID-19 outbreaks. She went to get tested in Boisbriand the day after she received the call.

While the virus was transmitted through the same family member, Simon’s experience is different than Rycki’s. She has been feeling more tired than usual, lost her sense of smell and taste; all similar to having a head cold, she said.

“When you cook something, you can’t smell it and when you try to eat it you can’t taste anything,” she said. Yet, she sees herself getting better every day. On Wednesday morning, she was already able to smell her coffee again.

As Quebec is allowing public indoor and outdoor gatherings for up to 250 people since August 3, the ERU said meetings – of any size – on the territory will remain banned. Bonspiel said they would continue to evaluate the situation before deciding on any further actions.

“It’s not a number that will be our trigger point,” said Bonspiel, “but how it evolves, the speed of the propagation of the virus.”

In response, some community members have already chosen not to take any chances. On Sunday, when news broke that one of the Mohawk Gas Bar and Smoke Signal’s workers had been in contact with somebody who tested positive, owner Maria Canatonquin decided to close her doors quickly. Her priority was to ensure staff and community safety.

“There was no question there after that. I have a responsibility toward the rest of the workers, the community and the customer. It’s the right thing to do, you can’t take a chance”, said Canatonquin, who went to get tested with her entire staff not only once, but twice this week, also in Boisbriand.

With negative tests and peace of mind, Canatonquin reopened Wednesday afternoon. That day, the ERU helped to sanitize the gas bar with Nocospray, a powerful portable disinfection system that kills disease and bacteria in any closed space in less than two hours.

Mobile clinic testing

The community’s first outbreak prompted close to 200 members to get tested on Tuesday at the mobile clinic. A massive increase since the last time the clinic made its last stop in Kanesatake on June 27, when 30 people were tested.

The ERU confirmed that this time, before lunch hour and due to a lack of available medical staff, the clinic had already reached its full testing capacity. As people expressed their discontentment on social media, the mobile clinic hours were extended and 60 more tests were administered.

While positives cases undeniably raise the level of anxiety within the community, the ERU declared that they have been getting ready for months for this, building the capacity. “Even though there will be many obstacles, we are ready to take this head-on,” read the online statement issued once the mobile clinic testing was over.

“We all knew eventually it would happen,” said Canatonquin about COVID-19 hitting Kanesatake, “but I really didn’t think that it would travel that fast. Now I see how it works, the reality of one person getting it and how fast it can spread just by interacting with people. I think it’s opened up a lot of eyes.”

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