How Inuit village in Atlantic Canada is handling presumptive COVID-19 case

About 74 per cent of eligible adults in Makkovik have received both doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, according to heath officials with the Nunatsiavut government. (Holly Andersen/CBC)
Resident encouraging empathy, kindness while small Labrador community moves forward with testing

When Caroline Rideout first heard news that there was a presumptive positive case in her community, she was frightened.

“Honestly, it was like somebody punched me in the stomach. It just kind of took my breath away for a minute,” said Rideout. She expects her reaction was common among most members of the small Inuit community on Labrador’s north coast.

But Rideout hopes that now, with the initial shock a couple of days behind them, the community will be respectful and empathetic.

“We need to not panic and we need to, most importantly, think about the person who had this presumptive positive case and imagine what they must be going through,” Rideout said.

“That’s the biggest thing to me: put yourself in their shoes, imagine how they must feel, how they must think that the whole community is suddenly going to be turned against them, when in actual fact we’re not.”

As of Thursday evening, 115 COVID-19 tests had been done — all of them negative, said Makkovik AngujukKak Barry Andersen. Those swabs will be sent for confirmation testing, while Andersen says testing of the remaining population is happening Friday.

“It was a bit stressful there yesterday, but to get that news at 5 o’clock yesterday that there was zero positive tests was a bit of a reassurance,” said Andersen.

The presumptive positive test was sent to St. John’s, and Andersen said he expects to hear back about those results later Friday.

“We’re hoping that’s going to be a false positive,” Andersen said.

‘Such a tight-knit little community’

With the Alert Level 5 lockdown limiting gatherings across Newfoundland and Labrador, people aren’t able to meet much in person.

But Rideout said she’s seen plenty of supportive posts on social media from community members, and she hopes that’s the focus now, as Makkovik moves ahead with sweeping testing to limit the spread of the virus.

“They’re scared, they’re worried, but they’re worried about the individual. They’re hoping that the individual isn’t too afraid and doesn’t feel alone and that if anyone needs anything to reach out,” Rideout said.

That kind of communication is vital in a time when contact is limited and people are vulnerable, Rideout said, and she hopes that whoever the person with the presumptive case is, they feel supported by the community.

“If it was me, I would want to know that people aren’t angry with me, because it’s not something that we can control. No one can control if they catch COVID or not,” she said.

“I would want to know people aren’t mad, they’re actually supporting me, they care. Don’t do the gossipy thing — that just makes it worse.”

Adhering to guidelines ‘vital’

The Nunatsiavut government opened swabbing up to any member of the community for Thursday and Friday, even those who do not have symptoms or who have not travelled to the metro St. John’s area — the hotspot of the outbreak of coronavirus variant B117.

Rideout said in her small community, even a single case comes as a shock.

“It’s not just Makkovik that it affects, it affects the entire north coast because we’re all so close — even though we’re separated we’re such a tight-knit little community, the entire north coast,” she said.

That’s a concern echoed by Andersen, who said with so much snowmobile travel between the communities on the north coast, it’s vital to adhere to public health guidelines to keep the virus out of the region as much as possible.

Andersen said people have been tightening their circles and limiting contact, but added that Makkovik is still very much a close community, able to support one another.

“Pretty much the whole community was locked down, not many people out around, most everybody was staying to their household bubbles,” Andersen said.

“People were still out around on Ski-Doos, which was good. Doing their regular chores, hauling firewood, going for a partridge and that kind of thing. And they’re staying positive, very very supportive of the person.”

Rideout has already received her second dose of the Moderna vaccine, which had been rolling out in Nunatsiavut this month, and she knows a “good percentage” of people eligible in her community also got it.

“It’s definitely a big comfort,” Rideout said.

In the meantime, Rideout said she will continue to stay positive, and hopes that the person who might have the virus is doing well and feeling the support.

“Please know that you have all of the love and support behind you, and that you’re not alone.”

-With files from Labrador Morning

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Alaska politicians send Trudeau letter saying they’re “shocked” over Canada’s COVID-19 cruise ship ban, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Jobless huskies in Arctic Finland travelling south for work as COVID-19 puts breaks on winter season, Yle News

Denmark/Greenland: Greenland authorities buoyed by high demand for COVID-19 vaccine, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Iceland institutes new COVID-19 border measures, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norway extends border closure with Finland due to pandemic, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Norway closes borders over fears of virus, but exempts Russian fishermen from severely infected border region, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Swedes caught in Norway border limbo, Radio Sweden

United States: Negative COVID-19 test no longer required to enter Alaska, The Associated Press

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