Local governance, health agencies implement measures to combat COVID-19
Tim Brody - Editor
Social distancing, self-isolation and the closure or partial closure of businesses and organizations is becoming the new norm in Sioux Lookout in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the community strives to do its part to “flatten the curve”, Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance said all businesses have been impacted. “Measures vary from complete closure to partial services. The response from businesses and agencies to the crisis has been amazing in its swiftness and thoroughness. The willingness of some essential businesses to offer limited and special hours and services for vulnerable sectors of the population is remarkable. As everywhere, there will be a dramatic economic impact. When the time comes to re-open, I encourage the entire community – all of us – to support local businesses, shop locally. We will all benefit – workers, employers, consumers, and public. It will be another time to act for the common good of our community, just as we are now.”
Asked how he thinks the pandemic and precautions and measures in place to help combat it will impact Sioux Lookout’s role as The Hub of North, Lawrance shared, “Our role as The Hub of the North continues, with considerably less movement of people. The Airport remains an essential service for people traveling to and from the north for healthcare. We are fortunate to have the Meno Ya Win Health Centre in our community. We must remember that the hospital serves a large population who must travel by air to get here. While COVID-19 is certainly the focus of everyone’s attention, other health care issues are not taking a holiday – babies continue to be born, urgent surgeries are necessary, cancer treatments are required, chronic diseases need continued attention. The Municipality has begun convening what will be regular teleconference meetings of the Emergency Management Control Group. This Group brings many agencies and organizations together and will provide a ‘hub’ for enhanced communications and coordination between those agencies.”
On March 17, The Municipality of Sioux Lookout announced the closure of all municipal facilities, including the Sioux Lookout Municipal Office effective immediately.
The Municipality shared on March 18, “In addition to the measures taken previously (including facility closures), Council has also directed the following:
All Municipal facilities are now closed to foot traffic, but staff continue to work and maintain the key operations of the Municipality. The following facilities have been exempted from the closures (to date):
Hidden Lake Landfill Site
Sioux Lookout Municipal Airport”
Lawrance commented on these measures, “As we all had to, the Municipality responded to the public health challenge. All our facilities are closed to the public. All but essential staff are no longer working. Essential service work is being carried on by Public Works staff (sewer, water, garbage), Airport staff, and some management staff and key personnel. On behalf of Council and the community I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who continue to work to deliver essential services. Council met through teleconference to make some of the critical decisions necessary as we entered this shutdown. We have cancelled all Council, Committee, and Board meetings until such time that the situation changes. If Council needs to meet again prior to a more normal time, we will continue to do so through teleconference. Records of any such meetings will be kept and made available to the public in the usual manner. Our in house municipal technology does not permit streaming or video meetings at this time. It is also probably apparent to everyone that the capacity of communications infrastructure is being severely challenged at this time with the sudden shift to ‘electronic’ communications
Asked about the community’s response to this new reality we find ourselves in, Lawrance said, “I think that there has been a very good community reaction to our new realities. While a complete shutdown is not possible, the measures and closures taken will have the desired outcome of slowing the spread of the virus. Residents and visitors are well aware of the need to abide by all the current precautions and in my view are being very responsible about their adherence to public health measures in place. Our advice continues to be to get information and news from accountable mainstream sources and follow the directions given by the Northwestern Health Unit, Provincial and Federal agencies. This will be our reality for some time to come. Through this time we all need to have and show patience, understanding, generosity, and individual social responsibility. We will get through this because we act together and eventually we will be able to come together again.”
The Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre has instituted a variety of measures in response to the pandemic.
SLMHC shared the following measures on March 19:
Entrances and Screening
As recently announced, we now have screening in place for everyone entering our facilities.
The Emergency entrance, where our screening station is located, is the only entrance to the hospital at this time. All other entrances to the hospital will be locked until further notice, including the corridor to the Hostel.
If you are staying at the Hostel and require help getting to the Emergency entrance, please make arrangements through the hostel staff.
Visitor/Escort Restrictions and Cafeteria Closure
At both the hospital and extended care sites, we now have a NO Visitor/Escort restriction in place.
There are exceptions to allow one (1) pre-identified essential visitor/escort for patients in labour, pediatric patients and a patient at end-of-life, providing that the visitor/escort clears screening.
This decision was not made lightly, and we apologize for any inconvenience. Our first priority is the lives and health of our patients, their families, our staff, physicians and our communities during this pandemic. We thank everyone for their patience and cooperation.
Our cafeteria is closed to the public at this time.
We have taken steps to ensure our food vending machine in the Emergency department is well-stocked for those patients coming through for medical care.
Communication with Patients
With visitor/escort restrictions in place, we know this is difficult on families, residents and patients when you cannot see your loved one. We would like to help to minimize the anxiety for both families and their loved ones by supporting a virtual face to face visit through video.
Please reach out at the following numbers and our staff will be pleased to assist you.
William B. George Extended Care site (807) 737-4575
Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre site (807) 737-3030 x 4800 and ask for Rhea Rice
We have lifted the parking gates at both of our sites. We feel this will help reduce the spread of germs which comes from touching the parking kiosk and paying for parking passes.
We continue to work with our partners locally, regionally, provincially and nationally to ensure we are providing you with the most up-to-date information.
We are working with the Ministry of Health, the Northwestern Health Unit and Ontario Health North to develop a COVID-19 assessment site on the SLMHC health campus, and will keep the public updated as this develops.
As a reminder:
- Stay home if you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and;
- Call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 or the Northwestern Health Unit at 1-800-830-5978 for further direction.
- Seek medical care if required. Disclose symptoms and any recent travel history.
Asked how people are dealing with these measures, SLMHC stated, “We understand that with the significant restrictions in place, it can be very difficult for both patients and their loved ones. We appreciate the tremendous amount of patience and understanding from visitors, patients and residents during this time.”
Asked about these measures and its state of preparedness if any instances of COVID-19 were to surface in the community, SLMHC responded, “Like many organizations, we have been preparing to ensure we have the resources necessary during this difficult time in order to be as responsive as possible. With our precautionary measures in place, including visitor restrictions and entrance screening, this has helped to reduce the traffic in the hospital and helped in preparation should we see COVID-19 in the community. We have identified separate spaces and beds for those patients who could potentially have COVID-19 and have access to ventilators and the right equipment to provide care.”
SLMHC further shared, “We want to really thank everyone for understanding our precautionary measures and having patience during this time. It’s a testament to our communities we serve that everyone is pitching in to do their part, especially our staff. To those who are taking the recommendations from our partners in healthcare by practicing prevention (like good hand hygiene and social distancing), self-monitoring, and self-isolation – thank you. Together we can protect our community.”
SLMHC has also shared, on March 21, it is working with the Ministry of Health, Northwestern Health Unit and Ontario Health North to develop a COVID-19 assessment site on the SLMHC health campus.
“This assessment centre is intended to enhance the protection of all patients, staff and community members,” the Health Centre stated on its website.
SLMHC further informed, “The COVID-19 Assessment Centre is available only to those who have been directed by SLMHC, Telehealth Ontario or the Northwestern Health Unit. Assessments for COVID-19 will be conducted by nurses who will provide recommendations to patients regarding self-monitoring, self-isolation and/or treatment. The need to perform COVID-19 swab testing will be determined by strict criteria.”
“I am stressing that this assessment centre is for those who truly need it,” said Heather Lee, President and CEO of SLMHC. “If someone hasn’t been told to visit the centre by health officials, they should continue to be self-monitoring and contact Telehealth Ontario or the Northwestern Health Unit to discuss their symptoms and receive direction.”
The assessment centre will be located in the parking lot at the hospital’s Main Entrance.
The Health Centre explained that people who do not have COVID-19 symptoms will not be seen at the assessment centre and will be redirected as appropriate.
“COVID-19 symptoms range from mild – like the flu and other common respiratory infections – to severe, and can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. More information about symptoms and COVID-19 can be found online at: https://www.ontario.ca/page/2019-novel-coronavirus
“Those who believe they have come into contact with, or have symptoms of COVID-19, are to self-isolate and call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000, or the Northwestern Health Unit at 1-800-830-5978 for further direction.
“We thank everyone for their patience during this difficult time. The SLMHC website will be updated regularly with more information:
Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority shared on March 17 that they have been busy responding to the emerging risks of COVID-19.
SLFNHA’s staff have come up with recommendations to keep residents who reside in 33 remote First Nation communities safe:
Assisting our Communities
SLFNHA has reached out to First Nation leaders to offer expanded supports. We are doing the following:
- Holding regular teleconference meetings with the following:
- Nishinawbe Aski
- Chiefs Committee on
- SLFNHA Board of
- Providing health promotion materials for each community
- Not allowing visitors at our hostels
- Assisting with personal protection equipment assessments
- Placing and coordinating bulk orders for cleaning and hygiene supplies
- Providing support in updating community pandemic plans.
- Developing practical tools and checklists to ensure each community
- is prepared.
- Providing updates via social media when new information arises
- Broadcasting information updates on Wawatay Radio at 1 p.m. CST all week long
Assisting our Employees
To ensure we can effectively support our communities, we are also working to ensure the safety of our 300+ employees by:
- Establishing an Internal Response Team who meets daily via teleconference
- Canceling all training, events, workshops, and non-essential travel.
- Creating new policies to for the potential of 14-day isolation of employees.
- Encouraging employees to work from home if
- they can.
- Educating all essential employees, who work closely with clients, on the symptoms of COVID-19.
- Ensuring Staff are being sent home if they are experiencing any of the symptoms.
- Reviewing infection prevention and control for all SLFNHA sites that host clients, our hostels, Clinics etc.
We are advising everyone to practice the following:
- Wash your hands with soap and water (pre-boil water regularly if needed) or use alcohol based hand sanitizer
- Sneeze or cough into your elbow (not your hands)
- Avoid touching your
- Avoid contact with people. This may mean canceling family get-togethers like birthdays, or other celebrations.
- Arrange for food delivery within your community if possible
“SLFNHA is working towards providing regular updates and encouraging everyone to do their part in preventing the spread of the virus by following the steps provided. The situation is being taken very seriously by all levels of government and so far there is only one confirmed case of COVID-19 within Northwestern Ontario.
“For the most up-to date information on COVID-19, visit publichealthontario.ca”
On March 20, in a memorandum to NAN Chiefs & Tribal Councils, Regional Health Authorities, NAN Affiliated Organizations (available to view on their website at www.nan.on.ca/covid19), Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler recommended that NAN First Nations consider the following:
Close borders to non-essential travel
Limit gatherings of no more than 20 people.
“Social distancing is the most important thing we can do right now,” the memo further stated.
On March 20, The Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) urged anyone in our area returning from travel outside of Canada to self-isolate for 14 days.
“Self-isolation is also recommended for those who are over 70 years old or anyone who is immunocompromised, to reduce their risk of infection and possible complications. These recommendations have been made by the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario,” a news release issued by NWHU stated.
“Self-isolating means staying at home and avoiding contact with others, even if you are feeling well and have no symptoms. It helps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.
“How to self-isolate:
- Stay home.
- Do not go to work, school, or other public places.
- Monitor your health for fever, cough, or difficulty breathing.
- Sneeze and cough into your sleeve.
- Wash your hands regularly or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Do not use public transportation, taxis, or rideshares.
- Ask for help from friends, family, or neighbours with needed errands like going to the grocery store.
- Seek services over the phone or internet, when possible.
- Avoid contact with older individuals or those with chronic illnesses like heart disease, respiratory disease such as COPD and asthma, or diabetes.
Visit www.nwhu.on.ca for more information,” NWHU informed.
“If you develop a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing while you are self-isolating:
- Continue to self-isolate.
- Call the NWHU COVID-19 hotline at 1-866-468-2240.
- In a medical emergency, call 911 and explain that you are in self-isolation so health care workers can take precautions.
“While you might not feel sick, it is important to follow these measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect those most vulnerable. We are all in this together.”