An area in northern Saskatchewan is increasing the number of people being tested for the COVID-19 virus in the hopes it will help contain the virus that has killed nearly 5,000 people across the country.
“They are actually in La Loche doing door to door testing along with contact tracing to make sure that they are offering that to people,” says Dr. Veronica McKinney, director of Northern Medical Services.
“They have a plane that flies out swabs everyday during this time to the lab down in Regina which can handle up to 1,200 swabs per day.”
As of this posting, La Loche, located 600 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, has 129 confirmed cases. Two elders have died from the virus.
The next door community of Clearwater Dene Nation is also experiencing an outbreak with 16 confirmed cases.
The two communities are working together to protect residents.
But leaders are also asking the province to clear up confusion about checkpoints that are restricting travel in the region during the pandemic.
Premier Scott Moe announced last month that non-essential movement into the area and between its communities would be limited to help contain the novel coronavirus.
The virus was brought in via travel from an oilsands work camp in northern Alberta.
A letter from northern leaders to the province’s chief medical health officer outlines their concerns over a lack of consultation about the travel restrictions and confusion over how to interpret them.
It says there are no Indigenous language speakers at the checkpoints and staff are not honouring notes from chiefs and councils that authorize certain people to travel.
The letter, posted online, says the province hasn’t addressed food security or how the lockdown means people can’t make a trip south for groceries.
Leaders say what’s missing is a discussion about how the public health order on travel is being carried out.
“We can understand the temptation to blame us for complex issues in the northwest,” reads the letter.
“Many people in the province are expressing this attitude, and this is not only deeply painful to us, but also dangerously divisive to the social fabric of our province.”
Of Saskatchewan’s 564 reported COVID-19 cases, 193 of them are in the far north.
In Ottawa, the federal government admitted that it is lacking the data necessary to determine the impact of the virus in First Nation, Metis and Inuit communities.
On the weekend, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said Canada is partnering with a group of researchers to “collect the necessary data that will allow for better understanding and modelling of COVID-19 cases in Indigenous populations in Canada.”
More than a million people in Canada have been tested for the novel coronavirus, with over 61,000 positive tests as of Friday.
With files from the Canadian Press