Classes cancelled at Fond Du Lac as COVID-19 precautionary measure

Classes have been cancelled for at least one school in Saskatchewan in response to COVID's spread to Saskatchewan.

Housing, higher rates of health conditions cited as worries on First Nations in Sask.

Approximately 280 students at Father Gamache Memorial School are being asked to stay home from school for about two weeks. (Twitter/Pahkisimon Nuyeʔáh Library System)

Classes have been cancelled for at least one school in Saskatchewan in response to COVID-19's spread to Saskatchewan.

Fond du Lac First Nation, located in the province's far north, is asking about 280 students at the K-12 Father Gamache Memorial School to stay home for at least two weeks.

Fond du Lac has cancelled two major events that were set for next week: a winter carnival and regional gathering in light of the news that the province had its first presumptive case of COVID-19 on Thursday.

Reached by phone, Chief Louie Mercredi confirmed the precautions, saying they are about being proactive.

Mercredi said there are limited healthcare facilities to serve the seven communities in the region: only one hospital with seven beds and a handful more beds at a local health centre.

"We don't have the resources if this thing ever hits," he said.

"That's a big scare for us because the resources are not here. We live in an isolated community."

FSIN takes steps

Bobby Cameron, Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), said his organization doesn't have the authority to shut down schools, but encouraged chiefs, councils and band members in the province to begin preparations should the need arise.

He and FSIN Vice-Chiefs Heather Bear and David Pratt addressed media on Friday to echo plans made by the Assembly of First Nations the previous day to limit staff travel and cancel conferences.

The FSIN Youth Winter Games in mid-April and all other FSIN-hosted events are postponed.

Vice-chief David Pratt, Vice-chief Heather Bear and Chief Bobby Cameron said FSIN has implemented its pandemic measures as of Thursday. Non-essential staff is working from home. (Matthew Garand/CBC News)

Stockpile the right things

Pratt encouraged people to stock up on water, dry food, Tylenol and Advil because antibiotics will not help treat a virus.

Some people drive up to nine hours to get supplies in places like Hatchet Lake, Cameron noted, and not all people have enough money to buy food at the high local costs.

First Nations vulnerabilities

Bear wants FSIN's membership to know that some health conditions First Nations people face, like diabetes and heart disease, make them more susceptible to harm from COVID-19 than the general population.

Overcrowded housing on reserve would make it incredibly difficult or impossible for anyone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 to self-isolate for two weeks as the province suggests, Bear said.

The fact that tuberculosis is still an issue on some First Nations is a case in point of why Indigenous people need to be on guard for COVID-19, Pratt said.

"Some of the homes that we have visited have 19 people in one home with five bedrooms. We've already got tuberculosis which is a disease that's basically been eradicated that we're still dealing with in our northern and remote communities because of the close quarters and the living conditions," he said.

Pratt said FSIN is discouraging large gatherings of people.

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