The COVID-19 outbreak in the La Loche area of northern Saskatchewan has doubled from six to 12 cases after spreading onto the Clearwater River Dene Nation.
While La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre confirmed nine cases in his village on Tuesday evening, Clearwater River Dene Nation Chief Teddy Clark said the reserve is facing three.
“There are a lot of challenges,” Clark said. “If this thing could hit more than 12, we could be in a lot of trouble.”
The Saskatchewan Health Authority declared an outbreak in La Loche, located about 600 kilometres north of Saskatoon, on Friday after a resident of a long-term care home in the community was confirmed to have COVID-19. Over the next few days, five more people in the village tested positive.
With the increase in cases Tuesday, the health care capacity of the area is starting to become a concern to its leaders.
While La Loche is expecting the arrival of a COVID-19 testing unit in the next week, the La Loche Health Centre has had to reduce services.
A number of staff members are in isolation as a result of contact tracing, the mayor said.
While the health centre’s emergency room will remain open, the facility will not be accepting new admissions and patients requiring hospitalization will have to be re-directed to elsewhere in the province, said St. Pierre, noting that the community has yet to reach that point.
“I can honestly tell you they’re not completely ready for something like this,” said Clark, who added that his nation is also not equipped for an outbreak.
“We need to prepare ourselves for the worst case scenario — meaning give us resources,” he said.
“Give us more boots on the ground. Give us more medical people.”
While masks, face shields, gloves and gowns are on order, Clearwater is struggling to acquire personal protective equipment (PPE) as well.
“We’re still looking at at least two weeks in terms of getting all this stuff,” said Clark. “There’s just such a high demand everywhere.”
The community’s leaders said they want to reiterate the importance of restrictions that are in place and of physical distancing and thorough hygiene.
They have since implemented an overnight curfew from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. Clearwater has also established a checkpoint to monitor people traveling on and off the reserve.
“It doubled in one day,” St. Pierre said, referencing the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases.
“They should take it really seriously,” he said of the physical distancing measures.
“Let’s just be vigilant. The virus doesn’t move. We move the virus.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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