The military won’t be heading to a First Nation in northern Manitoba right now, despite calls from the community’s chief amid a growing COVID-19 outbreak that has now infected dozens of people.
There were more than 60 active cases in Shamattawa First Nation as of Monday, according to Chief Eric Redhead. On Tuesday evening, he was waiting on updated figures.
“Just to keep the kids safe, we stay home,” said Sheri Schweder, who lives in the fly-in community, about 745 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
There are 12 people, including nine children, living in her home. The youngest is just two months old.
“We only go to the store. Only one of us goes to the store,” she told CBC News by phone on Tuesday. “So there’s just one person in our household that does store duty.… We wear masks, we hand sanitize, we try to be extra careful.”
Schweder, who works at the local crisis shelter, said two of her staff have already tested positive for the illness.
Curfew, occupancy limits
Redhead said his community had previously implemented a number of measures to try curb the spread of COVID-19, including a mask mandate, a curfew and limiting the number of people in the local grocery store. The school and band office have also been closed.
But he told CBC News on Monday that many people in his community of more than 1,000 residents are scared.
“They’re terrified. We’re all terrified,” he said. “This is a scary time we’re living in and … I think people are really scared. They’re scared for their loved ones, they’re scared for their own health and safety.”
Redhead had asked for the military to step in after members deployed to the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba to fight an outbreak at a personal care home.
More than 30 people were isolating off-reserve as of Monday after they were assisted by the Red Cross, Redhead said. On Monday, he called for the military to set up a field hospital and bring in more medical help.
On Tuesday, his pleas made it to the House of Commons.
“Will the prime minster heed the call of the chief and send in the military?” asked federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau replied that the federal government is working with Indigenous communities and leadership across the country to ensure their needs are met — but didn’t commit military help for Shamattawa.
Temporary isolation shelter
In a statement early Tuesday evening, Indigenous Services Canada said a temporary isolation shelter has been sent to the community and department officials have been in contact with leadership in Shamattawa about concerns around enforcing public health orders in the community.
A request for federal assistance is typically initiated by a province or territory, the department said, and staffing needs during an outbreak can usually best be managed by existing resources in the health-care system.
For now, Schweder said she’s taking as many precautions as she can, but hopes more people in her community take the outbreak seriously.
“There’s a lot of people complaining that there’s some some people just taking their time shopping and not considering the people that are lining up outside in the freezing cold, because it’s like –20 C,” she said.
“But … there’s a lot of people out there that are not being careful and they’re not taking this seriously, and I think that’s why we’re having really big spikes in the community here.”