Saskatoon

Most COVID-19 infections in La Loche area are in young people, says chief medical health officer

"We need to continue to social distance and work on minimizing risk," a local leader says. "The people are the magic wand."

'We need to continue to social distance. The people are the magic wand,' local leader says

Aerial view of the village of La Loche, Sask. including the Dene High School. (Submitted by Kalvin Jones)

Three weeks after the COVID-19 outbreak in Saskatchewan's far north began radiating out of La Loche, a trend has emerged.

"Most of the cases [in the region] currently are in youth and younger adults and that has been the chain of transmission," said Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer.

The statistics released daily by the provincial Ministry of Health bear this out.

On April 14 — three days before Shahab first confirmed the beginning of the northern outbreak — only 21 people aged 19 and under (the youngest age bracket measured by health officials) were infected with COVID-19 in the province.

On Thursday, that cohort had grown to 71, an increase of 238 per cent since the public declaration of an outbreak.

"While young people may think that they are invincible, you have a duty to obviously prevent even the low risk of serious illness," Shahab said of the trend. "You can expose people within your household, people within your extended household who may be older, who may have underlying risk factors."

Two people in the far north have died of COVID-19 complications. They were both elderly residents of the La Loche Health Centre.

Shahab has linked the initial phase of the northern outbreak to inter-provincial travel from an Alberta oil sands camp. 

'The people are the magic wand' 

Local leaders such as La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre and Clearwater River Dene Nation Chief Teddy Clarke have taken to local airwaves and Facebook to urgently call on northern residents to comply with the provincial order to avoid non-essential travel between communities.

"We need to continue to social distance and work on minimizing risk," Clarke said on Wednesday. "Let's continue to work together.

"Someone asked me once if I had a magic wand. I said no but that's not true. The people are the magic wand. With everyone working together we can do anything."

"The sooner we contain it," St. Pierre said of the virus the same day, "the sooner we can go back to our normal way of life."

Health officials reported 19 new cases of COVID-19 in the province on Thursday. All of them are in northern Saskatchewan.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

Story tips? guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

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