It's taken longer than might have been expected, more than six months into Manitoba COVID-19 pandemic, but the province's north has become the last of the health regions to crack the double-digit mark for positive tests for the virus with seven new cases of COVID-19, all members of the same family in York Landing, having been announced by the province Sept. 28.
It’s been said in this space before that more COVID-19 cases were a matter of when, not if, but it isn’t encouraging to see a spike in the number of cases – around a week ago there were only four cases, all recovered and dating back mostly to the first week of April – occur in a First Nation without road access or adequate medical facilities and resources. As many have said since Manitoba had its first confirmed test for COVID-19 back in mid-March, the virus has the potential to spread like wildfire when it infects one person in a First Nation, due to overcrowded housing, all students attending the same school and limited stores and other businesses for people to go shopping. One person took a medical trip to Winnipeg, got exposed to the virus and, within days, half-a-dozen people from the same family have all been infected.
The outbreak also underlines, as has been said here before, that the northern travel ban doesn’t really protect people in the north from the virus because, for one thing, there are so many exemptions and, for another, the medical system in Northern Manitoba isn’t equipped to provide residents with routine care, meaning that people are faced with the choice of either travelling to the province’s COVID-19 hotspot for the sake of their health, or forsaking treatment of existing medical problems due to fear of returning with a new one. As the York Landing situation demonstrates, that fear is not misplaced and making a trip in spite of it can have serious consequences for people and for their loved ones.
Coming up on seven months since the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Manitoba, there shouldn’t be too much more for people to learn, but since lessons don’t always sink in the first time, remember that there are steps you can take to protect yourself and others: First of all, stay home when you are sick and limit the number of people you come into close contact with when you are well. Wash your hands often, wear a mask when you can’t ensure at least six feet of space between you and other people in public and avoid crowded indoor places. Monitor yourself for possible COVID-19 symptoms and don’t go out unless you have to. The York Landing case is a result of travel due to a very good reason, but there are many other northerners who have decided to take a trip down to Winnipeg for less compelling reasons who could have brought the novel coronavirus back with them.
The government isn’t going to put up roadblocks on highways at the 53rd parallel to protect the people of the north. Cities and towns in the region do not have the ability to prevent people from entering city limits or to enact health regulations, the latter being the jurisdiction of the provincial public health department. People improperly wearing masks are not going to be arrested. Keeping the number of COVID-19 cases in the region from growing as rapidly as it has in the past few days is up to all of us collectively. While you can’t control what other people do, and shouldn’t criticize them for making difficult choices and then ending up facing the consequences, you can control what you do, where you go and how you behave while you’re doing it. It may not be what we want to be doing, six months into a pandemic when it feels like it’s been a long haul already, but for Northern Manitoba, ensuring that we take steps to stay safe remains important, especially with flu season just around the corner.
COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon and Northern Manitoba has many residents and communities who are particularly vulnerable to its effects and they are relying on the rest of us to help keep the region’s numbers low.