Manitoba First Nation battles ‘outbreak within an outbreak’ as all 28 residents infected at care home

Forty-one people linked to a northern Manitoba care home have tested positive for COVID-19, as the surrounding community deals with a concerning rise in its own cases.

Infections at the Rod McGillivary Memorial Care Home on Opaskwayak Cree Nation so far include all 28 of its residents and 13 of the home’s 48 workers,  said Onekanew (Chief) Christian Sinclair.

A First Nations-run rapid response team is working to identify and isolate additional positive cases in the community, he said Saturday.

“The way it was put to us by the team was that we have an outbreak within an outbreak,” Sinclair said.

“It’s a very tough situation to deal with, knowing that 28 of our elders are infected with COVID-19…. That really hits home, because it’s everyone’s loved one that’s supposed to be safe in an environment like that.”

The outbreak at the care home began on Oct. 21, when a staff member was diagnosed with COVID-19, Sinclair said. Within two weeks, the illness had spread much further — and earlier this week, it took the life of one of the home’s residents, he said.

Cases are rising in Opaskwayak — a community about 520 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, near the Pas — and on other nearby First Nations, infecting a rising proportion of community members and forcing more health-care workers to stay home from work, Sinclair said. On Friday, Opaskwayak had a 20 per cent COVID-19 infection rate.

Meanwhile, more than half of the First Nations communities in Manitoba have now reported cases of COVID-19.

As of Friday, First Nations people accounted for 24 per cent of Manitoba’s coronavirus-linked hospitalizations and 35 per cent of COVID-19 patients in intensive care, according to the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba.

On Opaskwayak Cree Nation, hospitalizations include a nurse from the care home, which Sinclair says raised concerns among the community’s leadership about the impact the outbreaks will have on the region’s health-care system.

“Our staff is getting to the breaking point, getting overwhelmed,” he said. “We’re going to need more nurses to come in to help to take over some of the duties of the nurses and staff that they have in the care home that are COVID-positive.”

Sinclair said he’s hoping to see the province bring more nurses to the community to help alleviate some of that pressure.

The community has also introduced new rules that will be in place for 28 days, Sinclair said in a news release on Friday.

Those measures include only allowing one person per household to leave for essential supplies like groceries and medication (with exceptions for essential service workers), and banning gatherings with people outside the household, the release says.

Sinclair said he also put in a request on Friday with the federal government to get an assessment of how much support the community needs and whether other steps, like bringing in the military, will need to be taken.

Many people in Opaskwayak have chronic diseases like diabetes, which would make them more vulnerable to serious complications of COVID-19, Sinclair said. He’s urging people in the community and beyond to follow public health recommendations so they can get a handle on rising cases in the region.

“Stay home, respect your family, respect yourselves, respect each other until this passes,” he said.