Garden Hill First Nation says outside help is needed to fight COVID-19 outbreak

The First Nation is waiting on an assessment from the Canadian Armed Forces.

Chief says outside medical resources needed as they face backlog for medevacs

Chief Dino Flett holds a box of the Moderna vaccine as it arrives in Garden Hill First Nation. Flett says 320 doses will be administered in the coming week. (Submitted by Dino Flett)

Garden Hill First Nation is urgently trying to curb COVID-19 transmission and get outside help, as the number of people infected in the community has skyrocketed in the past week. 

As of Sunday night, Chief Dino Flett said the community has 269 active cases. According to the 2016 census, the First Nation has a population of 2,591. 

"It's trying times, we are starting to be more familiar with what's going on with the virus, but the challenges are very high and we are doing all we can," Flett said. 

Flett said the community is in dire need of more nurses and medical supplies, as well as medevacs — or air ambulances. Because Garden Hill First Nation does not have a hospital, patients suffering from COVID-19 have to be flown to Winnipeg for health care, but currently there's a backlog, he said. 

In December, rapid testing was introduced to the four Island Lake First Nations, including Garden Hill. (Submitted by Four Arrows Regional Health Authority)

He said at least five patients are waiting to be airlifted outside of the fly-in community about 475 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

"We need to send these patients out [to] the city ... and if we can't and if it's not helping, then we need additional medical services here," Flett said. 

Military doing assessment 

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) said it has dispatched a liaison and reconnaissance team of eight members, as well as a ranger from the local community, to Garden Hill to rapidly assess the situation. Members of the military conducted the assessment on Sunday.

"This assessment is being done so that the CAF can be prepared if/when a formal request for assistance is received from provincial authorities," a statement from a spokesperson said. 

Flett said he's waiting on the outcome of their report, but if no action is taken, he will put in an emergency order to the federal government and ask for a field hospital. 

"If we don't hear anything or see anything, then our next step is to put this order in or to call for a state of emergency," Flett said. 

Flett said the community is currently under lockdown, with non-essential travel prohibited.

People are asked to stay home while members of a rapid response team are delivering food and medicine to those who are isolating, he said. 

Flett said his biggest worry is determining whether there's community transmission and where it's happening. But at this point, he hasn't received any answers from contact tracers. 

"Nobody seems to want to answer that. They're just saying that they're still investigating if it's a cluster of families and if there is a pattern," he said. 

Health authority says more vaccinations needed 

Manitoba's Island Lake district now has the most active cases in the province. As of Monday afternoon, the area is reporting 492 active cases — the highest compared to any other district in the province. 

Alex McDougall, executive director of Four Arrows Regional Health Authority, said faster vaccinations are needed to fight the spike in cases. 

"Trying to get as much of the vaccine available to the communities would be something that would be beneficial, knowing that it's a choice that each individual has to make," he said. 

Elder Martha McKay, 90, was the first person from Garden Hill First Nation to get the Moderna vaccine on Monday. The Four Arrows Regional Health Authority says faster vaccinations are needed to curb the recent spike in cases. (Submitted by Dino Flett)

Four Arrows oversees health services for Garden Hill First Nation, Wasagamack First Nation, St. Theresa Point First Nation and Red Sucker Lake First Nation. McDougall said out of the four communities, Garden Hill has been the most heavily affected by the recent spike in COVID-19 cases. 

Flett said shipments of the Moderna vaccine have arrived in Garden Hill over the weekend, with 320 doses planned to be administered in the coming week.