An alarming spike in coronavirus cases is pushing more Saskatchewan First Nations to enter community lockdowns.
Implementing a two-week lockdown “won’t cure the problem, but we’re trying to flatten the curve somewhat,” said Cumberland House Cree Nation Chief Rene Chaboyer.
His First Nation entered its lockdown on Monday as cases climbed. He said the actions of Manitoba First Nations, which faced spikes earlier this month, inspired his community’s plan.
On Monday, the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority (NITHA) reported 258 active COVID-19 cases in its communities, a significant jump from the 168 it reported on Nov. 16. NITHA is comprised of Prince Albert Grand Council, Meadow Lake Tribal Council, Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation (PBCN), and Lac La Ronge Indian Band.
NITHA medical health officer Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka said the increases continue to be concerning.
He said a key lesson from cases earlier this year is the importance of restricting non-essential travel. He said some people nonetheless still engage in high-risk behaviours like gatherings and failing to follow other health precautions.
Those issues with individual behaviour contribute to more top-down measures like lockdowns, but it’s difficult to predict future actions, he said. If individual behaviour issues were addressed, there would be less strain on communities that has prompted tighter rules, he added.
“It’s really hard to predict what the future would look like.”
That follows Friday statements from Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller expressing serious concern over the surge of COVID-19 infections in Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Some NITHA First Nations recently renewed their lockdowns to curb those case numbers. Starting last week, they included restrictions in PBCN communities and a lockdown in Montreal Lake Cree Nation, running from Nov. 20 to Dec. 7.
Other First Nations, like Beardy’s and Okemasis Cree Nation, have introduced border control and curfew measures.
“We understand everyone’s frustration, but the simple rule is ‘no school, no hockey,’” the First Nation’s chief and council told residents in a letter last week announcing a lockdown starting on Monday. The letter noted the vulnerability of members to the spread of cases, and asked residents to limit traditional ceremonies to community members.
In Cumberland House, Chaboyer said recent surges in cases worried him more than previous incidents. A community member’s death, and infections of his cousin and an elder, further concerned him.
He pointed to persistent issues like crowded housing and some people failing to follow precautions as further snags in the community’s COVID-19 response. Chaboyer predicted more closures in the foreseeable future, as the community works to contain case numbers.
“I imagine it’ll creep into the community again at some point and we’ll be doing this all over again.”
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