Remote communities lock down, ban outsiders when COVID-19 spreads

Nunavut confirmed a further 22 cases of the disease on Sunday, bringing the total number to 196 in just 10 days.Emma Tranter / The Canadian Press

The latest wave of COVID-19 is bringing health resources in some remote communities in Canada to the breaking point as the number of cases explodes.

Record-breaking cases have been documented across large parts of southern Canada in recent days, and while many hospitals report fewer critically ill patients than in previous waves, they are struggling with a higher absenteeism rate because health care workers become much more ill. speak up.

These burdens are exacerbated in remote communities where access to health care is already quite limited.

Bearskin Lake First Nation, a fly-in community in northern Ontario, declared a state of emergency on Dec. 30, when 43 residents tested positive for the virus. By Sunday, 169 people had confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, more than 40 percent of the total population.

“It’s a crisis,” Nishnawbe Aski Nations chief executive Derek Fox said in an interview.

Bearskin Lake has no hospital and is usually operated by a nursing home with two nurses. An emergency evacuation would take more than three hours for a plane to get in and out of Sioux Lookout or Thunder Bay, and that is only if the weather allows it to land.

A federal rapid response team of three primary care nurses, a paramedic and two environmental health officers landed in Bearskin Lake on Dec. 30, bringing with them more test capacity. Two public health nurses were also dispatched by the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority.

Fox said it is not enough for a community that has no hospital and no capacity at all to determine how sick any of the infected residents are.

“The federal government and the provincial government need to recognize that this is a crisis,” Fox said. “They are not treating this as a crisis. They are waiting to see what happens.”

He said about a dozen of the 49 communities in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation have confirmed COVID-19 cases right now, including the 169 in Bearskin Lake, and about 80 more in 11 other First Nations.

Initial Services Minister Patty Hajdu spoke with Fox on the phone Sunday, saying Ottawa is there to help.

“I reiterated that we want to be there for them, to support them, and that they just have to keep telling us what they need, and we will work really hard to make sure those resources are on. space, “she said.

On Sunday, Hajdu said $ 483,000 had been approved to help Bearskin Lake with food safety, personal protective equipment, funding for community COVID-19 workers and supplies such as woodcarving and collection.

She said that when so many people are sick and homes are only heated with wood stoves, it is a challenge to make sure there is wood to burn.

Outbreaks in remote communities also affect Nunavut, northern Quebec and Labrador.

Nunavut confirmed a further 22 cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the total to 196 in just 10 days.

That is more than a fifth of the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the territory since the pandemic began almost two years ago, and the territory’s top public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson says it puts tremendous pressure on health care.

“Please be patient and kind as there will be continued delays,” he said in a statement issued Sunday.

“Please stay home as much as possible and do not take unnecessary chances.”

Nunavut advises against all unnecessary travel within the territory and has banned unnecessary travel to and from several communities including Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, Arviat, Igloolik and Pangnirtung.

Travel bans are also in place now in Nunavik in northern Quebec until mid-January, with only critical or necessary travel allowed in or out of the region’s 14 villages.

The Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services reported 33 new cases of COVID-19 in the week leading up to Christmas, and 131 between December 27 and December 31.

“The situation is serious,” the health department warned in a statement to the community on New Year’s Eve.

On Labrador’s remote north coast, where COVID-19 first appeared last week, leaders are urging residents to be careful and impose strict travel restrictions on local communities.

Innu Nations Deputy Chief of Staff Mary Ann Nui said in a Facebook post on Sunday that the inability to get confirmed test results quickly increases stress.

The community in Natuashish locked itself in eight days ago after exposures to potential cases on flights to the city and a bar in Trapper’s Cabin, just before Christmas. Nui said the alleged cases have still not been confirmed.

“It takes longer to live in the northern area, but it should not be like that,” Nui wrote.

In Nain – Labrador’s northernmost community – there are 14 suspected cases, found through rapid tests, but confirming them with PCR tests is slow due to lack of supplies.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s health ministers said tests were sent to the region, but said the increase in demand could not have been predicted.

Nui said the local health region should have been more prepared.

Newfoundland and Labrador were one of several counties that recorded drastic increases in the number of COVID-19 cases on Sunday, where they registered 466 new infections and overturned a one-day record set just 24 hours earlier.

Nova Scotia also marked a new one-day summit on Sunday, recording 1,184 cases and eclipsing 1,000 daily cases for the first time since the onset of the pandemic. The province reported 1,893 new infections over the past two days.

A two-day census from Prince Edward Island came in at 137. Public health officials on the island say the total number of infections has nearly tripled over the past two weeks.

Ontario’s daily numbers fell below Saturday’s record high, but still came in at 16,714, and the province now shows more than 100,000 active infections.

Quebec, meanwhile, registered 15,845 new infections on Sunday.

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