Manitoba

Military, Red Cross in Mathias Colomb Cree Nation as COVID-19 cases soar

Dozens of people are working to contain a COVID-19 outbreak that has more than doubled since last week in a northwest Manitoba First Nation.

Military presence in Mathias Colomb the largest pandemic relief effort in the province to date

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are working in Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, Pukatawagan, alongside a team from the Red Cross and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs to help contain an outbreak of COVID-19 (Canadian Armed Forces Operations/Facebook)

Dozens of people are working to contain a COVID-19 outbreak that has more than doubled since last week in a northwest Manitoba First Nation.

There are 281 active cases in Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, Pukatawagan, as of Monday. The week before, there were 101 cases in the community of about 3,000.

The numbers are concerning, but the community has stepped into action and people are taking public health directives more seriously, says Chief Lorna Bighetty.

"I'm starting to feel [more] confident and OK about it, because [of] the help and support that we're getting now," she said.

Last week, 41 members of the Canadian Armed Forces arrived in the First Nation, which is about 710 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

Forty-one members of the Canadian Armed Forces are in Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, Pukatawagan, where active case numbers have grown to 281. (Canadian Armed Forces Operations/Facebook)

That's the military's largest pandemic relief effort in the province to date, the Forces confirms.

On top of some immunization, they are helping out at the nursing station, working on an isolation space at the local school and doing wellness checks.

A spokesperson for the Canadian Armed Forces said Tuesday night 13 patients were using the alternative isolation centre.

The 41 military members are joined by members of the Canadian Red Cross, a team from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and a representative from Indigenous Services Canada, Bighetty says.

'We're serious about it'

On Monday, Mathias Colomb Cree Nation set up a hard lockdown. The community had already been in a lockdown since January, but people were still leaving the community to go shopping, Bighetty said.

That will no longer be possible because there's a roadblock set up to stop winter road access except for essential reasons, she said.

"We're serious about it," Bighetty said.

"I was really worried because I knew that the people were out and about was getting me really worried because I knew it was going to escalate."

Lorna Bighetty is the chief of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation. (Zoom)

For the time being, the community has a flag system so people can get help without calling for it or leaving their homes.

People can put either green, yellow or red flags in their windows and members of the support team, including the Red Cross and military, will know how to help them.

Green indicates all is well, yellow means the household needs supplies, though not immediately; and red means the household needs immediate help like medical supplies or a doctor's visit.

Bighetty says it's a strategy other communities have used, and so far it's going well.

"We know now that the virus is going to be capped. It's not going to continue to spread," Bighetty said

"Now we can start hoping for the best, which we will see the best of everything that's happening in our community. Everybody will be back to being healthy."

Across the province, there are 87 new cases of COVID-19 involving First Nations people since Friday, the Manitoba First Nations Pandemic Response Coordination Team said in a bulletin on Monday.

First Nations people make up more than two-thirds of all active cases in the province.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. Find her on Twitter at @r_bergen or email her at rachel.bergen@cbc.ca.

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