An explosion of COVID-19 cases in Norway House Cree Nation, which escaped relatively unscathed from the first three waves of the pandemic, is affecting vaccinated people and being driven by crowded living conditions, according to the chief.
The outbreak began with cases being imported into the community in early September, Chief Larson Anderson said in an Oct. 14 press release. A resident of the community also died as a result of their infection this week.
As of Thursday, CN said there had been a total of 172 cases related to the outbreak, 84 of which were still considered active. This is lower than the number of 153 active cases listed for the community on the provincial government COVID-19 website, but listed recoveries sometimes lag behind actual recoveries because Manitoba Public Health hasn’t ben able to follow up yet. People infected with COVID are considered recovered after 10 days if they no longer have symptoms.
55 Norway House residents were tested for coronavirus Oct. 12, Anderson said, with 12 samples coming back as positive, 18 negative and 25 sent to Cadham Provincial Laboratory for confirmatory testing.
“Most of our cases were fully vaccinated with high cases in children, adult age groups 20-29 and 40-29,” Anderson said.
90 per cent of Norway house health district’s eligible residents are at least partially vaccinated, according to DataMB.ca.
“Norway House is in our Critical Red stage with staff working around the clock to contain the numbers with contact tracing, testing and isolation, community lockdown, school closure and essential businesses only,” Anderson said. “We are also doing mobile testing, community testing and vaccination. School closure was critical. The schools are overcrowded and was a focal point for increasing the spread. Doing all these tasks with limited resources is difficult to do when we are not getting the cooperation of our stakeholders. There are some things beyond our control that they must assist with. We are fortunate that we are a very strong sovereign nation and have been able to do with what we have in our community.”
Half of the cases during the outbreak have been among household contacts.
“Overcrowded homes, lack of proper heat and ventilation, inadequate washrooms and healthy space for families are contributing to the pandemic emergency,” Anderson said. “Limited health care services and underlying health issues are also part of the problem. Both governments must step up and assist us in our battle.”
Public health nurse manager Flora Simpson said risky behaviours, including misuse of alcohol and drugs, have also contributed to the spike and that her staff are working on a harm reduction strategy to help address this risk factor.
Churchill-Keewatinook Aski NDP MP Niki Ashton said the federal government needs to pull out all the stops to help Norway House cope with this wave of infections.
“Norway House Cree Nation and the community of Norway House are doing everything possible to support people affected at this time,” she said in an Oct. 15 press release. “We need to make sure the federal government is stepping up now. Overcrowded housing has been a major factor in the spike in cases including among children and vaccinated people. Immediate assistance is needed as well as immediate action on housing.”
Manitoba reported 92 new COVID-19 infections Oct. 15, including 17 in the north, which saw new cases in the Norway House, Island Lake and Pukatawagan/Mathias Colomb health districts. There are currently no active cases listed in the Thompson/Mystery Lake health district on the provincial government’s COVID-19 website and 11 northerners are in hospital due to the virus, three of them in intensive care. The 58th death in the region has also been announced and appears to be someone in The Pas/Opaskwayak/Kelsey health district.