By John McFadden
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chief of the Wahta First Nation said his territory is doing everything it can to stop the spread of COVID-19 now that the community is reporting its first three cases since the pandemic began.
Chief Philip Franks said the three people are now self-isolating and their health is stable. He added he is confident that they probably did not spread the virus. The Chief said officials as well as community members are continuing to take the measures needed to keep others safe and virus-free. He added the three people tested positive for the coronavirus last weekend. He added that contact tracing has been done on anyone that may have come in contact with the three people who have tested positive.
“It is confined to a family grouping. It is not a case where people were disregarding health practices. In fact they were very much following all health practices. The virus got in and it is unfortunate, but public health has followed up. Our community health nurse is following up,” Chief Franks said. “I am pretty confident that it is contained. Hopefully there will not be any more positive tests coming out of this. They didn’t really have a whole lot of contact with the community.”
The Chief said that the First Nation has hosted two COVID testing clinics in the past three months. He wasn’t exactly sure how many members were tested but said the clinics were well attended.
“An incident like this, when we were being so careful, is a real eye-opener. The majority of our members, if not all of them, have been very careful,” the Chief said. “We have done a lot of work with this pandemic from the beginning. We’ve had a plan, including messaging, and it is working.
Chief Franks said it is more important than ever that the community does not let its guard down. That includes continuing to wear masks, sanitizing, social distancing and limiting travel outside the home and the community.
“There is no room for error. The community has to be aware of, even more so now, that we have to consider anyone whether it is on the territory, or in the towns where they have to go to get their supplies, as if they may have been infected,” Chief Franks said.
“That’s the main message coming out of this. We are glad that it is not an outbreak. But it is an example of why we have to re-enforce our practices.”
The Chief said his confidence to nip the virus in the bud stems from the responsibility his members have shown for almost a year now in following the protocols and guidelines laid out by the First Nation and its health partners.
“All in all, I think we’ve done very well. It shows though that just like anywhere else, in any other community, it will creep in,” the Chief said. “The coronavirus is very hard to control. We are making every effort to protect our people.”
Chief Franks said locking down the First Nation or restricting access to it is impossible because the busy Highway 400, part of the Trans-Canada Highway, cuts through the northwest part of the territory. He added that people don’t want to see the community closed off. The Chief said that most people on the territory who can work from home have been doing so, including **>First Nations<** staff. He added that businesses in the community that have remained open have limited access to them.
Chief Franks stressed that his community members are all in this together and the only way to get through the pandemic is to help each other. He added that he hopes to see a vaccine rollout on the territory as soon as possible but admits it may be a while before that happens.
John McFadden is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering Indigenous issues for MuskokaRegion.com, ParrySound.com and Simcoe.com. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.