Pimicikamak fights to control COVID-19 surge, with more than 80 active cases on northern First Nation

More than 80 people living in Pimicikamak now have COVID-19 as the community battles its worst outbreak of the illness yet.

Cases in community also known as Cross Lake Cree Nation nearly doubled in 2 days, chief says

Pimicikamak is located about 530 kilometres north of Winnipeg. (Submitted by Kyle Scribe)

More than 80 people living in Pimicikamak now have COVID-19 as the community battles its worst outbreak of the illness yet.

As of Sunday morning, there were 82 confirmed active cases of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus in the community, also known as Cross Lake Cree Nation, Chief David Monias said. That's nearly double its case count from Friday, when 42 people had tested positive.

And with about two dozens households affected so far and testing of hundreds of close contacts still underway, that number is expected to continue to rise, he said.

"The biggest concern is that we can't contain the spread, and that's what I'm worried about," Monias said. "We've always stated that this was going to be a big problem for our people because of the overcrowding."

With housing shortages in Pimicikamak, which is about 530 kilometres north of Winnipeg, some households have dozens of people living under one roof, which can help the illness spread more quickly, Monias said.

In one case, a person who contracted COVID-19 had 40 close contacts.

And now that the coronavirus variant first detected in the U.K. has appeared in Manitoba, including seven probable cases in Pauingassi First Nation in eastern Manitoba, Monias said he's especially worried about getting the outbreak in his community under control.

The update comes a day after Pimicikamak, which Monias said has roughly 8,100 people, brought in strict lockdown measures.

It also has check stops in place and people designated to check on those who are supposed to be self-isolating to make sure everyone is following the rules, he said.

A rapid response team arrived in the community on Friday and is helping with contact tracing, he said.

'False sense of security'

Pimicikamak is quiet with most people at home now, Monias said, adding he's worried about the effect the lockdown will have on people's mental health.

Monias said the community hasn't officially requested military help yet, but the 40-person Pimicikamak pandemic response team is considering it.

"I think that we may have to," he said, adding that taking the step might make some people take the outbreak more seriously.

While many people in Pimicikamak have been following public health rules, Monias said, some felt a "false sense of security" when active infections in the community fell to about six cases at one point.

"That's the reason why we are in this place, because people have become either complacent or they felt that we were on the mend now," he said. "It's frustrating when that happens."

For now, the community is making do with the resources and space it has, Monias said, with people self-isolating in university classrooms and gyms, and some being flown to Winnipeg to stay in alternative isolation accommodations.

About 35 people from Pimicikamak are staying in those types of isolation spaces right now, he said.

Pimicikamak Chief David Monias with the community's first vaccine shipment, which consisted of 20 vials containing 10 doses each. (Submitted by David Monias)

The illness has affected people of all ages in the community, with more than a dozen of Pimicikamak's active cases among children, Monias said.

People from the community who have contracted COVID-19 and been hospitalized range from the young to the elderly, with some still there weeks after testing positive.

Monias said the community is also still waiting for second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to arrive weeks after some Pimicikamak residents got their first dose, which makes him worry about what will happen if they take too long to get there.

With files from Jill Coubrough