Military will assess how to help in Pimicikamak as COVID-19 cases climb to 174, chief says

Military help may be on the horizon for the northern Manitoba community of Pimicikamak as the First Nation works to contain a growing COVID-19 outbreak.

Chief David Monias says the federal government has agreed to send military personnel to Pimicikamak, also known as Cross Lake First Nation, this Friday to assess how it may be able to provide support.

“People are sick, people are getting exhausted,” Monias said. “We need that reprieve.” 

There are 174 active COVID-19 cases in Pimicikamak, including 87 children, according to a community bulletin posted Wednesday.

The First Nation, which Monias said has a population of roughly 8,100, is running out of room for people who need to isolate and frontline workers are stretched thin.

WATCH | Pimicikamak COVID-19 cases climb:

Military support may be on the horizon for Pimicikamak, as it works to contain a growing COVID-19 outbreak. 1:24

“We have 56 COVID-positive people that are waiting to be airlifted out” to alternative isolation spaces, said Monias. “They were scrambling to try and clean some places to put them, to find cots.

“It’s really sad we can’t house these people, and we’re trying to protect them.”

School classrooms, gymnasiums and a local hotel have all been converted into temporary isolation spaces and all are at capacity, he said.

Meanwhile, several charters have been flying people to isolation accommodations in Winnipeg, about 530 kilometres to the south.

Monias is hopeful the military will be able to help with creating more isolation spaces and supporting front-line workers who are stretched thin, including those at community checkpoints.

CBC News has reached out to Public Safety Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces for details on the assessment.

This is the third COVID-19 outbreak Pimicikamak has experienced in recent months, despite robust public health measures, Monias said. 

He points to overcrowded housing on the First Nation as a factor in the growing spread.

“The difference [this time] is that it’s spreading quite fast,” Monias said, adding an epidemiologist is in the community to investigate further.

A COVID-19 case in Pimicikamak was earlier suspected to be the more contagious B117 variant, which was first detected in the U.K., but on Wednesday, it was confirmed the case is not that variant, or any other variant of concern.