Community leaders in the Thunder Bay, Ont., area are calling on all levels of government to take action on the worrying spread of COVID-19 in the city that’s a travel hub for northwestern Ontario.
Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins and Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler are requesting support as they say cases among vulnerable populations have overwhelmed local resources.
Outbreaks have been declared at correctional facilities, among the homeless population in Thunder Bay, and at number of local schools.
In a joint statement issued Thursday, the chiefs pointed to inadequate resources for people released from correctional facilities who are being sent to isolate in Sioux Lookout, Thunder Bay and Timmins hotels.
“Thunder Bay is in a precarious situation, and there is growing concern as government ministries, health organizations and health units struggle to contain the spread of this virus,” Fiddler said.
“Moving back to lockdown across northwestern Ontario will be painful, but is necessary as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.”
Their call comes ahead of a decision expected Friday from Ontario’s cabinet on whether to move the area into lockdown.
The government moved the Thunder Bay region to the second-strictest “red” category of its pandemic restrictions system two weeks ago when it lifted a stay-at-home order for much of the province.
Data has shown the stay-home order and other strict measures brought down cases and hospitalizations after they were imposed in January, but those numbers have since started to trend upwards again.
Ontario’s top doctor said Thursday he has recommended a potential lockdown for Thunder Bay to stop the virus from spreading into northern Indigenous communities with few health-care resources.
Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro said Friday he’d be surprised if the province did not impose a lockdown based on the steady rate of case growth.
“We’re in a difficult spot right now, for sure,” he said in a telephone interview.
He said the city has reported more cases in February than throughout all of 2020. There were 349 cases active in the city of more than 121,000 on Friday, according to the local health unit.
“Clearly there is a situation here that we don’t see ending in the near term,” Mauro said of the trend.
The mayor has been calling on the provincial and federal governments to provide financial and human-resources assistance in health-care. He said the city does not have resources to meet the needs of its COVID-19 isolation centre, that’s on the “verge of failing.”
On Thursday, Thunder Bay’s medical officer of health recommended all schools move to virtual learning next week after a number of outbreaks in schools. At least two school boards have indicated they plan to follow her advice.
Meanwhile, one northwestern Ontario First Nation declared a state of emergency after several members living off-reserve in Thunder Bay tested positive for COVID-19.
Neskantaga First Nation Chief Chris Moonias said at least 12 members had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday and one person was in intensive care.
He has called for assistance from Ottawa to fund emergency housing for the homeless population and for citizens of his First Nation to be immunized against COVID-19.
Ontario reported 1,258 new cases of COVID-19 Friday and 28 more deaths from the virus.