Photo: The Canadian press
Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. Tam says that an outbreak of COVID-19 struck the community of La Loche in northern Saskatchewan. is a matter of concern. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Sean Kilpatrick
REGINA – The Chief Public Health Officer of Canada says that a COVID-19 outbreak in the far north of Saskatchewan is of concern.
According to Theresa Tam, not only is the area remote, it is home to indigenous communities.
“People take this very seriously because these are more vulnerable situations,” she said Wednesday during her daily briefing in Ottawa.
Saskatchewan health officials say new coronavirus arrived in the Dene village of La Loche, 600 kilometers northwest of Saskatoon, last month from an oil sands labor camp in the north from Alberta.
Since then, it has spread to the community, making it the area of the province where the cases are most active and has triggered a blockage of non-essential movement.
Two seniors living in a long-term care facility in La Loche died from complications from COVID-19.
The Clearwater River Dene Nation and the English River First Nation have also reported cases.
In recent days, the epidemic has increased the number of cases in the province, which has exceeded 500 infections on Wednesday.
All but three of the 25 cases announced come from La Loche. In the far north region, there are 138 active cases.
Tam said that a significant number of health workers went door-to-door to find infections and that laboratory tests could be done on site.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has also offered its support, she said.
Also on Wednesday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority reported a case of COVID-19 at a second hospital in the North. A worker at Meadow Lake Hospital tested positive. Earlier, health officials reported that an infected La Loche patient remained at Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert.
Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said the epidemic in the north was alarming. He said that First Nations communities are more vulnerable due to overcrowded living conditions and lack of access to the hospital.
Premier Scott Moe announced two weeks ago that Saskatchewan has “flattened the curve” and will reopen certain services and businesses.
La Loche was not allowed to relax the restrictions in the first leg which started on Monday. Moe said he was confident he would go ahead with the plan in the rest of the province, where there was not the same peak of infections.
The Prime Minister said at a press conference on Wednesday that testing and contact tracing have been stepped up, so he expects the number of infections to continue to rise.
He also said that things have changed in the province since he set himself the goal of more than 1,000 tests per day for COVID-19.
Moe had asked health officials to try to get there and then test 1,500 a day by the end of last month. Government data shows that the numbers have always been below these two targets.
“The tests that need to be done are underway,” said Moe.
There has been a drop in demand for testing, he added, but it is increasing again as authorities try to contain the epidemic in the north.
Moe said that although he has not abandoned his previous target, what has changed is the way the virus spreads. When he set the target, the Prime Minister said that the infection was spread through large rallies and trips, but now it is mainly transmitted from the north.
Meanwhile, Alberta has announced that it will spend $ 4.5 million on equipment to perform 16,000 tests per day. Earlier this week, Premier of Ontario Doug Ford accused local public health officials of failing to meet provincial testing targets.
Like other provinces, Saskatchewan has said that increased testing will be the key to easing restrictions on COVID-19. He recently expanded his criteria to include mild symptoms such as loss of taste or odor.
This Canadian Press report was first published on May 6, 2020