Community 'still panicking' as military arrives in Red Sucker Lake First Nation amid COVID-19 outbreak: chief

Members of the military are headed to another Manitoba First Nation to assess a COVID-19 and help that might be needed.

Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, Red Sucker Lake latest communities dealing with outbreaks

Military members onboard a Hercules aircraft arrived in Red Sucker Lake First Nation Monday to help the community control a COVID-19 outbreak. (Submitted by Samuel Knott)

Members of the military have arrived in another Manitoba First Nation to assess a COVID-19 outbreak and help that might be needed.

A military Hercules aircraft arrived Monday in Red Sucker Lake First Nation, where Chief Samuel Knott says 28 people have tested positive for COVID-19.

"There was a slight comfort [with] the help being deployed in to assist our situation," said Knott, who is himself recovering from the disease.

"But really ... everybody's still panicking because of this virus that's pretty much all over the community now."

Knott said he's not sure how many military members arrived in the community, about 535 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. The personnel will be helping with testing, he said, as well as going door-to-door in the area, setting up an isolation facility and supporting other efforts.

The community also received 300 rapid testing devices, Knott said. Two physicians, along with additional support for testing, arrived on Monday. Knott said whoever is symptomatic will be tested, and people who tested negative previously will be retested five to seven days afterward.

"I'm hoping that we can contain this very soon," he said.

Sapotaweyak Cree Nation chief Nelson Genaille says homes were given signs like these to signal whether or not they are OK, self isolating or need help. (Submitted/Nelson Genaille)

Knott said housing shortages and overcrowding are concerns in his community of about 1,000 residents.

"We have a huge number of potential contacts who are front line service people who are supposed to isolate," he said earlier on Monday, prior to the military's arrival. "We need all the support on the ground level for service in our homes."

He said the community is running out of staff to operate water and sewage trucks, and provide other frontline services because of self-isolation requirements. 

Military help 

A spokesperson for Public Safety Canada said the agency is working quickly to assess the situation in the First Nation.

"Conversations are ongoing to assess the needs of regions hardest hit by the pandemic's resurgence and prioritize the deployment of assistance," spokesperson Tim Warmington wrote in an emailed statement Monday.

The Canadian Armed Forces liaison and reconnaissance team was dispatched from CFB Shilo, he said. It was expected to include roughly eight CAF members.

Once the assessment is complete, community, provincial and federal authorities will decide where federal resources may be best utilized, he said, and more elements may be deployed.

The military help comes after more members of the military arrived in Shamattawa First Nation on Sunday. About 60 troops are now on the ground and will help do wellness checks, deliver food hampers and conduct contact tracing.

Shamattawa Chief Eric Redhead said roughly one-third of the on-reserve population of about 1,300 has tested positive.

Manitoba currently leads Canada when it comes to on-reserve cases. As of Friday, Indigenous Services Canada said more than 1,700 cases had been reported in First Nations since the beginning of the pandemic. Saskatchewan and Alberta round out the top three provinces with the highest number of on-reserve cases.

Further south, Chief Nelson Genaille of the Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, north of Swan River, Man., is also dealing with an outbreak in the community.

Genaille said there are currently 49 active cases and 313 others are self-isolating. 

Funeral pegged as possible exposure

The province warned of a possible exposure in the community on Nov. 27., where it said a community member attended a funeral while positive. Genaille disputes that claim and believes it was a healthcare worker who brought the disease in when coming to work. 

He said community leaders have been trying to stress physical distancing, the need to stay home and proper hygiene for weeks. 

Chief Nelson Genaille of Sapotaweyak Cree Nation says more than 300 people in his community are self-isolating. (Chris Glover/CBC)

"Teachers, they've been called and summoned to do alternative duties," said Genaille. "They are very good at delivering material."

The First Nation's 260 households have been given information packages on proper hygiene, how to self isolate and window signs to indicate whether it is safe to enter the home or not. 

Genaille said he is trying his best to get the community to comply with the rules, even going as far as imposing a curfew and designating who can buy gas and shop on a particular day. 

"I'm doing damage control more or less, you can say," he said. 

Red Sucker Lake First Nation COVID-19 outbreak

CBC News Manitoba

5 months ago
Chief Nelson Genaille of Sapotaweyak Cree Nation says they have 49 knows cases of COVID-19 and more than 300 people in his community are self-isolating. 1:48

With files from Rachel Bergen, Meaghan Ketcheson and Austin Grabish