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Swift Current grapples with coronavirus, stigma as new hot spot flares

Click to play video 'Southwest Saskatchewan becomes the province’s new coronavirus hotspot' Southwest Saskatchewan becomes the province’s new coronavirus hotspot
WATCH: In the past week, southwest Saskatchewan has become the province's new coronavirus hot spot.

As coronavirus hot spots continue to flare up in southwest Saskatchewan, many locals are scrambling to get control of the spread of the virus and the stigma that goes along with it.

On Friday, Saskatchewan reported 128 active cases of COVID-19, with the majority of them concentrated in the rural south and central regions.

“It’s spread out in lots of areas, given that the City of Swift Current is kind of a hub centre for a lot of those regions,” said Swift Current Mayor Dennis Perrault.

Read more: Public health alert issued for possible coronavirus exposure at Swift Current businesses

Earlier this week, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) issued a public health advisory for possible coronavirus exposure at numerous Swift Current businesses. Since then, community members have been feeling the impact following the first flare-up on Monday.

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“We got a little complacent because we never had wave one,” said Leanne Tuntland-Wiebe, co-owner of the Great West Auto Electric Ltd (Bumper-to-Bumper).

An employee of the store recently tested positive for the coronavirus. Tuntland-Wiebe and other employees have been tested and are awaiting their results. The store has since been sanitized and remains open.

“I don’t want COVID-19 to become a monster that shuts down our community,” said Tuntland-Wiebe. “I want people to know it’s something we can handle. We should be able to get through the community and be supportive.”

Members of the community have stayed vigilant during this time and are respecting social distancing and hand hygiene guidelines, says Perrault.

Residents are staying connected through Facebook groups, emails, downtown business groups and calls.

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“We’re not a dangerous place to come into, and for the most part, the public doesn’t think so either,” Tuntland-Wiebe said. “They’re staying home and they’re taking precautions which is what we want them to do, and if business is slow for a couple of weeks, it’s slow for a couple of weeks.”

But as new cases pop-up, so do stigma and misinformation.

Read more: Alberta Hutterite colonies facing coronavirus-related discrimination

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Tuntland-Wiebe says she’s heard anecdotal stories of people in the community advising each other not to go to her store.

Some think that if they touch her products at Great West Auto Electric, they’ll contract the virus, while others believe they’ll get it if they breathe the air inside the business, Tuntland-Wiebe said.

“If the Saskatchewan Health Authority thought we were dangerous, they would have closed us, sent us all home to self-isolate,” says Tuntland-Wiebe.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Saskatchewan health officials actively engaged with Hutterite community after COVID-19 outbreak declared' Coronavirus: Saskatchewan health officials actively engaged with Hutterite community after COVID-19 outbreak declared
Coronavirus: Saskatchewan health officials actively engaged with Hutterite community after COVID-19 outbreak declared

The Hutterite colonies have also faced stigma after the SHA announced many cases in the region are linked to the colonies.

The SHA has since switched its language to “communal colonies” instead of using the term “Hutterite Colonies.”

David Tschetter, chair of Hutterian Safety Council says the change in language reduces the stigmatization.

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When the first outbreak occurred on two colonies in Maple Creek — located 140 kilomentres southwest of Swift Current — the SHA said health officials were facing resistance in COVID-19 testing.

“While the vast majority embraced the leadership of the SHA and the Hutterian Safety Council (HSC), a small group has resisted intervention,” said the SHA and HSC in a joint press release on June 22.

This led to stigma in the city of Swift Current toward Hutterites according to Tuntland-Wiebe.

“We survive, all businesses survive, because of the colonies around here, and it’s too bad the finger was pointed at them a few weeks ago,” Tuntland-Wiebe said.

Read more: Manitoba Hutterite colonies under voluntary lockdown after coronavirus cases

Since then, measures to control the spread of coronavirus have improved said Tschetter.

The colonies, in which members would usually live communally, are taking precautions, says HSC. Leaders are being proactive and some have locked down voluntarily while contract tracing continues.

“The reality is we’re not immune, were not isolated, and we have a responsibility to protect everyone within the community and outside the community moving forward and [to] react with common sense and common courtesy to public health orders,” Tschetter said. “That is the strategy at the moment.”
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Click to play video 'Some Hutterite colonies in Alberta facing discrimination over COVID-19' Some Hutterite colonies in Alberta facing discrimination over COVID-19
Some Hutterite colonies in Alberta facing discrimination over COVID-19