Military arrives in Pauingassi First Nation to assist with COVID-19 outbreak
Chief Roddy Owens welcomes military, ongoing support of rapid response team in northern First Nation
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces arrived in Pauingassi First Nation on Saturday to assist with a worrisome spike in COVID-19 cases, with the illness now affecting about a quarter of the people in the northeastern Manitoba community.
As of Friday night, there were 145 cases in the fly-in community of about 500 people, which is about 280 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
Pauingassi Chief Roddy Owens says the arrival of 16 military members was a welcome sight.
"It's good to see that they've arrived and they'll be started to work with us in the community immediately," he said.
Owens says the military members are staying in the local school, and will help with daily operations of the community, since so many essential workers are sick or isolating.
The team of medical and general-duty staff from CFB Shilo and CFB Edmonton is working alongside community members to provide humanitarian assistance and address immediate needs, a spokesperson from the Canadian Armed Forces said in an email.
The team will provide logistical support, transport goods and medical supplies, conduct wellness checks and assist with the monitoring of critical infrastructure.
Their support was requested for a period of up to two weeks, but will continue until the situation has stabilized and is manageable through local and provincial resources, the military spokesperson said.
WATCH | Members of the military arrive in Pauingassi First Nation:
The chief says COVID-19 spread like wildfire in Pauingassi because health-care workers couldn't keep up with testing, tracing and communicating with people who needed to isolate.
Many people weren't aware they were infected, or had been in contact with people who were, Owens said.
"The identification, the backtracing was hampered because we only had two nurses at the nurses' station at the onset of the outbreak."
The chief and council called on the federal government to send military support to help prevent spread, as some other hard-hit First Nations have done.
A rapid response team — a small group of nurses and doctors sent by the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Co-ordination Team — arrived in the community to help with the backlog, and since then, daily case numbers have been going down, Owens said.
"That helped significantly, that we were able to speed up the tracing, identifying contacts and having them brought in to be tested."
The rapid response team will stay in Pauingassi for the time being, working alongside the military.
So far, no community members have died from COVID-19, and Owens hopes that continues to be the case.
With files from Erin Brohman