Clean water shortage, COVID-19 outbreak puts northern Sask. Dene community in crisis

The Fond du Lac Denesuline Nation Emergency Team is calling for public health interventions as COVID-19 spreads in the remote community, which doesn't have access to clean water because of maintenance issues at the water plant.

Fond du Lac Denesuline Nation Emergency Team calls for public health interventions

The Father Gamache Memorial School stands in Fond du Lac. (Twitter/Pahkisimon Nuyeʔáh Library System)

Diane McDonald says COVID-19 is spreading so fast in a remote northern Saskatchewan Dene community that responders are overwhelmed. 

"We are doing everything we can do to prevent the spread,"  said McDonald, Fond du Lac Denesuline Nation's COVID-19 co-ordinator, in a news release. 

"We have implemented a lockdown to stop non-essential travel outside of the community, and we have declared a State of Emergency to access more funds to cover support services."

A state of emergency was declared in the isolated community, which is about 1,275 km northwest of Prince Albert, on Friday after the water treatment plant began to experience mechanical failures and the Athabasca Health Authority reported the first case of COVID-19 in the community.

"Our members don't have adequate access to clean water for basic hygiene and safety purposes, which is essential to preventing the spread of COVID-19 in our community," McDonald said. 

"At this point, we are experiencing an incredible strain on our essential staff, from our delivery drivers to our health-care staff who may have been in direct contact with the positive cases."

She said 37 positive cases have been identified and 207 people were considered direct contacts with these people as of Monday. There are about 1,000 people living on reserve, meaning at least one-quarter of the membership are directly affected by the illness or by self-monitoring, according to the news release. 

McDonald said the community likely won't have clean water for about a week.

She said the two local stores are already sold out of cleaning supplies, baby goods and cough remedies, so people are having to source items from down south, paying high freight costs. The community is accessible by air year round, but on the ground only by boat in the summer and ice road in the winter. 

The Fond du Lac Denesuline Nation Emergency Team is calling for support to address high freight costs of food and supplies.

"Canada needs to step in and provide a subsidy to cover the higher cost of freight related to essential supplies needed for COVID-19."

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