KETTLEY AND STONY POINT FIRST NATION, ONT. -- As the world marks the one-year anniversary of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the First Nation community of Kettle and Stony Point is trying to get through its first major outbreak.

“I guess I’m just a little bit more worried this time,” said resident Dianne Thomas as she waited for curbside pickup of sundries outside a local convenience store.

She said she wasn’t planning to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but she quickly changed her mind when the virus began to spread through her community.

“You have to be really mindful of everything, and make sure that we’re respecting others as well, I would say. Like you can’t be going out over here or over there unless you’re just going to get groceries or going to a medical appointment.”

An outbreak was declared last week at the First Nation located on Lake Huron about 50 kilometres north of Sarnia.

On Thursday there were 31 active cases, with another 14 resolved in the community of about 1,000 permanent residents.

It comes as numbers in Lambton County continue an upward trend, with public health officials suggesting the region could go back into the grey-lockdown zone - a decision to be made by the province.

“When you drive across the road into the First Nation you make an assumption that you’re safe and at home,” said Kettle and Stony Point Chief Jason Henry.

“And we felt COVID safe as well, because why would your neighbour have it? Why would your child at school have it? Why would your grandmother have it? That’s what I mean by, ‘We let our guard down.’ We made the assumption that we’re safe internally but once one person gave it to another, and those two gave it to four, and four to eight - all of a sudden we had a community spread outbreak.”

It was just under a year ago that Kettle and Stony Point had the first reported case of COVID-19 at an Ontario First Nation. But it wasn’t until this outbreak that life changed dramatically in the community.

The local elementary school remains closed for the time being, and stores are allowed curbside pickup only.

At The Eagle Indigenous Radio 107.7, co-manager and programmer Justin Shawnoo said the outbreak took many by surprise, including himself.

“In the back of my mind I was kind of thinking it’s bound to happen at some point. I just didn’t think it would be so many numbers at once. I figured maybe it would be like a slow start, but then that morning it was quite a bit of cases. It was a little nerve-wracking I’ll admit.”

The community’s first vaccination clinic took place earlier this week. More needles will go into arms this weekend. Jeffrey (Red) George is looking forward to taking a shot for the community.

“I go for my vaccine this Saturday at 11:30, and I’m looking forward to it, to help keep the circle strong.”

Chief Henry said he’s looking at the positive, “We’ve gone a year. We’ve lost no lives due to the pandemic. That’s a plus.”