SLFNHA still reporting high active COVID case counts
Mike Lawrence - Staff Writer
While the rest of Ontario looks to put restrictions imposed during the pandemic behind them, the catchment area for the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority (SLFNHA) continues to see active case numbers that are significantly higher than the provincial average.
Emily Paterson is SLFNHA’s Director of Approaches to Community Well-being and the Acting Incident Commander for the COVID-19 Regional Response Team.
As Paterson explained in a March 25 phone call, “Today we are reporting 492 active cases in the 31 First Nations communities that we do case and contact management of COVID-19 in. Those cases are spread out across 18 communities, but largely concentrated in I would say four.”
As of March 28, SLFNHA was reporting 423 active cases with 45 active cases in Deer Lake First Nation, 137 active cases in Pikangikum First Nation, 51 actives cases in Sandy Lake First Nation, and 58 active cases in Lac Seul First Nation.
While the most current numbers suggest a slight drop overall, as Paterson points out, it’s too soon to know what the trend will be. “It is a decrease from the previous days where we have been over 500 cases for a while. This is because of some of those initial cases in some of those bigger outbreaks being resolved… But we do have several communities where case numbers are rising, and we are doing a lot of testing now so it’s too early to say whether this is the beginning of a steady decline or if it’s a temporary drop. We might see some of those other communities that are doing testing shoot up.”
Paterson went on to explain some of the measures that remain in place to try to limit the spread of COVID in northern communities.
“Across the region the chiefs and assemblies passed a resolution in December for a regional lockdown, and that is still in place. It limits non-essential travel as a way to keep Omicron out of the communities. Communities also have testing requirements for anyone visiting, and quarantine and testing for members who return.”
The hope is that communities keep public health measures in place at least for the time being, as Paterson explained, “We are recommending that mask mandates continue and that they continue to use a 10 day isolation period for cases and contacts, but each community has its own jurisdiction and authority to make decisions for its members and review our guidance and decide how to apply it to their First Nation. We also recommend that if there are cases in the community to really limit indoor activities and gatherings. Data shows that the north is running about three weeks behind the south, so we are staying the course with those recommendations.”
Moving forward, Paterson reiterated the following recommendations.
“We continue to emphasize the importance of getting vaccinated for COVID-19 and we also continue to encourage the wearing of masks. We also recommend that communities keep public health measures in place and those testing and travel restrictions, but we also recognize the importance of holistic well being, so we encourage families to get out on the land as a unit while maintaining physical distancing from others to promote mental emotional and spiritual well-being.”
Speaking to case numbers in several northern First Nations communities, Sol Mamakwa, MPP for Kiiwetinoong, commented, “When you see the provincial government removing the mandates for masking, and the opening of the rest of the province, while we are still facing the issue of the number of cases across our region and especially in the riding of Kiiwetinoong, and northern Ontario… I think that causes a concern because of the issues that we face. We have no close access to hospitals. We have overcrowding in the homes. Some communities don’t have access to clean drinking water. We need to be able to address that, no matter where in the province we live. We need to get as much help as we can whether it’s federally, provincially. There was no dialogue. There was no consultation at all for the north. I take part when the SLFNHA chiefs have their calls. I hear the issues that they are facing and there was no dialogue at all.”
Mamakwa continues to urge residents of northern communities to get vaccinated, stating, “I think as residents of the far north in Ontario, we should be able to support each other. We should be able to keep on with the restrictions or the mandates until things get better. We have to keep our children, our elders, our community members safe. We need to keep those vaccination rates up and encourage everyone to get their first and second shots, and their boosters.”