COVID-19 outbreak in northern Saskatchewan ‘of concern:’ top health officer

COVID-19 outbreak in northern Saskatchewan ‘of concern:’ top health officer

COVID-19 outbreak in northern Saskatchewan ‘of concern:’ top health officer

REGINA — Canada’s chief public health officer says a COVID-19 outbreak gripping Saskatchewan’s far north is an area of concern.

Dr. Theresa Tam says not only is the region remote, but it’s home to Indigenous communities.

“People are taking it extremely seriously because these are more vulnerable situations,” she said Wednesday during her daily briefing in Ottawa.

Health officials in Saskatchewan say the novel coronavirus arrived in the Dene village of La Loche, 600 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, last month via travel from an oilsands work camp in northern Alberta.

It has since spread through the community, making it the region in the province with the most active cases and triggering a lockdown there on non-essential travel.

Two elders living in a long-term care facility in La Loche have died from complications related to COVID-19.

The nearby Clearwater River Dene Nation and the English River First Nation have also reported cases.

In recent days, the outbreak has been driving up the number of cases in the province, which surpassed 500 infections on Wednesday.

All but three of the newest 25 cases announced are from La Loche.

Tam said there’s a significant number of health workers going door to door to search out infections and there’s capacity to do lab testing on site.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has also offered its support, she said.

Also on Wednesday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority reported a COVID-19 case in a second northern hospital. It said a staff member at the Meadow Lake Hospital has tested positive and the case is believed to be connected to community transmission. Earlier, the health authority reported an infected patient from La Loche had stayed at the Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert.

Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has called the northern outbreak alarming. He said First Nations communities are more vulnerable because of overcrowded living conditions and a lack of hospital access.

Premier Scott Moe has said testing and contact tracing have been ramped up, so he expects the number of infections in the region to keep rising.

Two weeks ago, Moe announced Saskatchewan had “flattened the curve” and would reopen some services and businesses.

La Loche has not been allowed to ease any restrictions under the first stage that started Monday. Moe said he remains confident in moving ahead in the rest of the province, where there hasn’t been the same spike in infections.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2020

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press