Manitoba

Military sent to Opaskwayak Cree Nation after every resident at care home contracts COVID-19

The Canadian Armed Forces have arrived at Opaskwayak Cree Nation, as the northern Manitoba First Nation grapples with a COVID-19 outbreak in the community and at a care home where every resident has tested positive. 

All 28 residents at northern community's Rod McGillivary Memorial Care Home have tested positive

Onekanew Christian Sinclair of OCN said he expects medical reinforcements to follow, after members of the Canadian Armed Forces were deployed to his community to help assess a COVID-19 outbreak. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The Canadian Armed Forces have arrived at Opaskwayak Cree Nation, as the northern Manitoba First Nation grapples with a COVID-19 outbreak in the community and at a care home where every resident has tested positive.

Seven military members from CFB Shilo in Manitoba are on the ground at Opaskwayak as of Thursday, said Onekanew (Chief) Christian Sinclair.

The military is there to assess the situation and meet with medical staff, and are "getting an idea of exactly what will be required once they exhaust all the [health-care] resources within the region," he said.

Sinclair expects medical reinforcements to follow.

"That's exactly why they're there," he said of the military's involvement, "and what we expect." 

The Rod McGillivary Memorial Care Home on OCN has reported infections among all 28 of its residents (17 of whom have shown symptoms) and 17 of the home's workers, Sinclair said. He has previously said there were 48 workers in total at the home.

'Stretched pretty thin'

The outbreak began on Oct. 21, when a staff member became infected. One resident of the home has died and the reported hospitalizations include a nurse from the care home.

"Our resources were getting stretched pretty thin, to the point that as of yesterday, we had two nurses left," Sinclair said.

"We have to be able to accommodate the shortfall of workers, ones that are getting sick and are in isolation."

Cases are rising in Opaskwayak — a community about 520 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg — and in neighbouring communities. OCN is a regional hub, Sinclair said, and a growing number of people in the area with COVID-19 are filling self-isolation units set up at a veterans' community home and school.

"We're doing our best now to cope," he said. "But to ensure we have the resources available to do what we got to do, we encourage our people daily to stay home."

Opaskwayak reported nine new infections Thursday for a total of 77 active cases in the community, which has about 3,000 members living on-reserve. 

The First Nation is facing a strict lockdown, under which only one person per household can leave for essential supplies, with exceptions for essential service workers. Social gatherings with non-household members are banned. 

A spokesperson with the Canadian Armed Forces said the military's reconnaissance team is also assessing the virus's impact in The Pas, the town that neighbours Opaskwayak.

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

Manitoba's health minister said the province won't hesitate to answer the military's call if help is needed. 

Cameron Friesen said nurses have been deployed to the surrounding area, as well as Moose Lake, and a leader in long-term care is participating on daily calls with community leaders.

"It's a broad response on the part of the province. We know that the military is also there assessing what they could do to help, and those conversations continue."

'SOS signal': NDP

The Opposition demanded the Tory government stop waiting on the military.

"A public health nurse is one step," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said, "but what about the actual nurse at the bedside who's going to care for the people who are sick?"

"We got that SOS signal coming out of the region right now — not only OCN, but also in many of the communities in the area, there is a legitimate and urgent need for health-care resources."

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With files from Caitlyn Gowriluk

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