Siksika First Nation closes schools, homeless shelter after COVID-19 outbreak

Siksika First Nation is closing all of its schools, after COVID-19 cases within the community nearly doubled in a single day.

The First Nation's four schools will be closed until the end of the week

Siksika First Nation has closed all schools after an outbreak of COVID-19 within the community. (CBC News)

Siksika First Nation is closing all of its schools and its homeless shelter, after COVID-19 cases within the community jumped from zero to more than a dozen in just a few days. 

The First Nation reported five new cases on Sunday and six new cases on Monday, bringing the total cases managed by Siksika Health to 13. Of those, 11 cases are on reserve. 

Last week, there were no active cases. 

More than 7,200 tests have been completed since the beginning of the pandemic on the reserve, which has seen a total of 48 cases.

Lenora Rabbit Carrier, superintendent of Siksika Board of Education, informed parents and guardians in a letter on Monday that due to the increased risk of transmission and spread, all schools would be closed Tuesday through Friday.

There are four schools managed by the board.

Rabbit Carrier said staff would deep clean and sanitize schools while they're closed, and that the board will continue to work closely with the Nation's public health team to protect staff and students. 

"If you have been contacted by Siksika's CDC team, please listen to them — they are here to help you, support you and help contain the spread of COVID-19 within the community. If the community health nurses ask you to isolate yourself or the household, please listen to them," she wrote. 

Earlier this month, the board shared a video showing how its schools are operating during the pandemic. 

Teachers showed how they're teaching physically distanced drumming lessons, setting up an isolation room in the library for students who show symptoms and checking temperatures with a touchless thermometer. 

The Siksika Shelter Centre has also been closed for Tuesday and Wednesday to undergo a deep cleaning. 

Siksika Health Services said in a Facebook post that it currently rates the risk of COVID-19 spread as moderate, given that there are "numerous, controlled clusters" of cases among the community. 

That risk rating means indoor events may only have 20 per cent of their fire code capacity, celebrations should be postponed or cancelled, outdoor cultural and spiritual events should have a maximum of 25 attendees, and the Elder's Lodge is temporarily suspending visitors. 

In July, the First Nation instituted a curfew after 10 cases were reported in the community. 

At the time, Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw praised Siksika leadership for acting proactively and transparently to control the spread. She also spoke out against discrimination, after reports that some First Nation members were being turned away from local businesses due to cases in the community. 

Siksika Health Services said anyone dealing with anxiety or emotional stress due to the pandemic can call 403-734-5660 from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Friday for support.