Active COVID-19 caseload on northern Sask. reserves more than doubles in 7 days

According to the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority's latest daily update, 225 people within its jurisdiction were infected with the virus on Wednesday. That's up considerably from one week before on Nov. 11, when the authority reported 106 active cases.

Overcrowding, poor housing conditions seen as contributing factors to increase

Chief Peter Beatty of Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, one of the four regional Indigenous groups served by the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority in Saskatchewan, says overcrowding and poor housing conditions complicate efforts to curb COVID-19. (Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation)

The number of known active COVID-19 cases on northern Saskatchewan reserves is rising quickly.

According to the latest daily update from the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority (NITHA), 225 people within its jurisdiction were infected with the virus on Wednesday.

That's up 112 per cent from one week before on Nov. 11, when the authority reported 106 known active cases.

Chief Peter Beatty of Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation — one of the four regional Indigenous groups served by the NITHA — said living conditions in the North make containing the virus a "high-risk" effort. 

"The overcrowding that is happening in our reserves and every reserve in Canada — and the poor housing conditions that we have in a lot of the units — contributes a lot to the fact that people, when they're told to isolate, would have to isolate in their own home, which would have anywhere from six to 10 to 15 people," Beatty said Friday. 

He was isolating alone at a cabin near Deschambault Lake after being told on Tuesday he was a close contact of someone who tested positive for the virus. Although Beatty himself tested negative — and learned of his results in about an hour, thanks to a rapid COVID-19 test kit — he was told to self-isolate for 14 days anyway, he said. 


Beatty said the virus is also spreading because members are travelling to southern hot spots in the province, such as Prince Albert and Saskatoon.

The eight communities represented by Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation — Amisk Lake, Deschambault Lake, Kinoosao, Pelican Narrows, Prince Albert, Sandy Bay, Southend and Sturgeon Landing — are under lockdown. Beatty said only residents are being allowed inside, and they can only leave the community on designated days. 

Masks are mandatory in public places, as has been the case "for quite some time" before the Saskatchewan government made it law throughout the province this week, Beatty said. 

Rate of virus growth higher on reserves

The NITHA releases a daily map on its Facebook page showing the number of total cases, including the number of active cases, in northern communities.

The map has five zones that focus on First Nations on-reserve communities within the authority's partnership.

(Saskatchewan government)

Some NITHA communities are not included in the provincial government's index of communities, though there is overlap between the two groups' daily reports.

The rate of growth for active on-reserve cases reported by the NITHA far outstrips the rate of growth reported province-wide by Saskatchewan health officials.

Active cases reported across the province by health officials increased to 5,651 from 4,437 during the same period — a surge of 21 per cent. 

Higher test positivity rates in North

New data released by the province on Thursday also shows some northern zones of Saskatchewan have recently posted the highest new daily case rates and daily test positivity rates in the province. 

The far northeast region, which includes the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation communities, had a test positivity rate of 14.1 per cent from Nov. 11 to 17 — meaning 14 per cent of people tested in a day were later confirmed to have the virus.

That's compared with a test positivity rate during the same period of 8.9 per cent in Saskatoon, the province's largest city.

(CBC News Graphics)

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Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa

Guy Quenneville is a reporter at CBC Ottawa. He can be reached at