Northern Saskatchewan ‘scrambling’ to control outbreaks as province moves to reopen

Northern Saskatchewan communities say they’re not ready for reopen
WATCH: The plan to reopen Saskatchewan’s economy is coming too fast, according to some leaders in northern Saskatchewan.

The plan to reopen Saskatchewan’s economy is coming too fast, according to some leaders in northern Saskatchewan.

While big cities in the province have seen a drop in active cases of COVID-19, some northern communities are in the midst of outbreaks.

At least three communities — La Loche, Patuanak and Beauval — are experiencing outbreaks according to The 155 Collective, a group of volunteers working with 24 Indigenous communities to help control COVID-19.

“We’re not scrambling to reopen, we’re scrambling to control the outbreak up here, so we’re totally opposite to where the rest of the province is,” said Rick Laliberte, incident commander with the organization.

One recent case was at the general store in Beauval where an employee tested positive.

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READ MORE: Individual at Beauval General Store tests positive for the coronavirus

Anyone who went to the store between April 12 and 27 is asked to monitor their symptoms, according to a precautionary health advisory from the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA). Read the advisory here.

It says if any symptoms appear, that person should immediately self-isolate and call 811 or their community health centre the SHA said.

The village of Île-à-la-Crosse and the Sakitawak Metis Nation declared a 24-hour community lockdown Wednesday as the virus continues to spread in northern Saskatchewan.

A cluster of cases were also reported at Lloydminster Hospital.

READ MORE: Île-à-la-Crosse imposing 24-hour lockdown as coronavirus spreads in northern Saskatchewan

“We are now just heading up the curve and trying to flatten our curve,” said Melanie Aubichon, mayor of Buffalo Narrows. She says her community has zero cases, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

“The rest of Saskatchewan have already went over that curve, so I feel like we’re in the midst of the pandemic as we speak [in the north].”
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The province will likely see more “isolated outbreaks” pop up in communities, warns the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses.

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“We need to figure out how we’re going to manage this because we’re going to end up having these kind of outbreaks all over the province,” said union president Tracy Zambory.

Right now, she says nurses in northern Saskatchewan aren’t prepared for the province to reopen.

“They need more help,” Zambory said. “They need more human resources [staff].”

The nurse’s union and community leaders say they need more resources and medical staff going to northern communities.

Along with treating people, Zambory said staff can also help with contact tracing — going back and seeing who someone who tested positive came in contact with. It’s key to finding out who else may have been exposed.

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The nurse’s union and community leaders also say whole communities need to be tested to contain these outbreaks.

“We need tests in this region, that’s the bottom line of our strategy — contain, test, go back to normal,” said Laliberte.

“We’re not there yet. We’re just at the outbreak level; we’re not ready to reopen.”

READ MORE: Community elder has died of COVID-19, says La Loche mayor

A negative to announcing reopening; even if you tell people nothing’s changed, they won’t always listen.

“On the weekend it was almost like a free for all,” said Zambory.

“It was like there was no rules in place at all. That’s not going to work. We have to follow the rules, that’s why we’re doing so well was all of those rules that were put in place, the hard work that’s gone into planning.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Warm weather in Saskatchewan doesn’t mean easing up on social distancing

Zambory said the union supports the province’s plan to reopen, but only if public health orders and rules around social distancing and other protective measures continue to be articulated to the public.

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The underlined message: what the north has right now is not enough.

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.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.