COVID-19 outbreaks declared at care homes in Opaskwayak Cree Nation and The Pas

Several possible public exposures on northern flights and bus services took place since Oct. 30

Manitoba announced 392 new COVID-19 cases and 10 more deaths due to the virus Nov. 16, including 25 new cases in the north.

There have now been 172 COVID-19 related deaths in Manitoba since the pandemic began, including three in Northern Manitoba. As of Monday, there were 234 people in hospital due to COVID-19, including 42 in intensive case and 37 of 83 people on ventilators in the hospital were COVID patients, Manitoba chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa said. Twelve northern residents were in hospital due to the virus Nov. 16, including one in intensive care.

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Northern Manitoba has now had 549 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began and 331 of them are considered active. 

The Pas/Opaskwayak Cree Nation/Kelsey health district leads the north in active cases, with 147 active cases. Outbreaks were declared at Rod McGillivary Care Home in OCN Nov. 14 and St. Paul’s Residence in The Pas Nov. 16.

“The current outbreak at the McGillivary Care Home on Opaskwayak Cree Nation is of major concern to our entire region," said Churchill-Keewatinook Aski MP Niki Ashton Nov. 14. "My thoughts are with the Elders and staff fighting COVID-19 at this time. The fact that all of the 28 residents of the care home and 14 staff have tested positive for COVID-19 points to the need for immediate federal action. Many people across Northern Manitoba have been deeply concerned about the potential for an outbreak in our region for months. Many have been clear that First Nations are particularly vulnerable given chronic underfunding, overcrowded housing, and lack of healthcare services. In addition to this devastating outbreak on OCN, cases are rising in First Nations surrounding The Pas. The federal government must pull out all the stops including responding to the call for military help. From testing, to contact tracing, to accessing medical care, to ensuring people can stay home – we need federal action now. We must also recognize that the provincial health system in our northern urban centres including The Pas are not equipped to deal with a surge in cases. We need the federal government to step in and ensure that our healthcare system is not overloaded and that people across our region are supported at this time."

There are 67 active cases in the Cross Lake/Pimicikamak Cree Nation health district, 37 in the Grand Rapids/Mosakahiken/Moose Lake/Easterville/Chemawawin health district, 28 in the Island Lake health district and 19 active cases in the Thompson/Mystery Lake health district.

There have also been numerous possible public exposures to COVID-19 in the north recently, including Calm Air flight 117 from Thompson to Winnipeg on Oct. 30 and flight M0509 from Gillam to Winnipeg Oct. 31 as well as flight M0112 from Winnipeg to Thompson Nov. 11. Other possible exposures took place on a Perimeter Aviation flight from Thompson to Tadoule Lake with a stopover at Lac Brochet on Nov. 6 and on a Maples Bus Lines bus from Winnipeg to Thompson that departed on the evening of Nov. 5.

Manitoba Hydro said Nov. 15 that a second round of testing of 508 workers at the Keeyask generating station construction site Nov. 12-14 identified one additional positive confirmed case of COVID-19 and four “not clear” or presumptive positive tests. Two additional positive tests from last Thursday involved close contacts who were isolating offsite and sought testing on the advice of public health authorities.

Staff rotations for workers who extended their rotations and those who are ending their regular rotations will resume, Hydro said, but all workers except  for small numbers of specialty crews to support commissioning efforts will be required to self-isolate for 14 days and receive a clear result on a PCR screening test before travelling to the site. Speciality workers who travel there without having completed these conditions will have no contact with other workers at the site and be housed off-site, said the Crown corporation.

Manitoba chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at a Monday news conference that the province can not continue the current rate of new case growth, with more than 1,000 cases having been announced over the past three days.

“We need to bring these numbers we need to work on that starting right now," Roussin said, noting that stores being busy over the weekend is an indication that people are not following instructions to stay home except for essential reasons seriously.

“We saw examples of stores open as if there were no such thing as COVID," he said. "We can’t go on in this manner. We don't want Manitobans out shopping for non-essential items. Don’t look for reasons to go out. Look for reasons to stay home."

Siragusa said that although the health care system has expanded intensive care capacity to 99 beds, 90 of them are currently occupied.

“The entire system is soon going to be under distress with these high daily cases counts," she said. "People are dying, our health care system is straining and our economy is suffering because of COVID."

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