Supplies, food a concern as northern Saskatchewan deals with COVID-19 outbreak

REGINA — Questions about access to supplies are emerging as health officials and community leaders work to contain spread of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan’s far north.

The region has seen a spike in cases in and around the remote Dene village of La Loche, a community of 2,800 about 600 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

Leonard Montgrand, the regional representative of Metis Nation-Saskatchewan, lives in the community. He said it’s getting scary because infrastructure isn’t set up to respond to the crisis.

“We are losing control,” he said.

“We need to get that infrastructure set up. We need to get things in place.”

One of two grocery stores in the village recently closed after an employee tested positive for COVID-19. The company that owns the store said in a statement it will try to reopen as soon as possible.

“For us, a day without both grocery stores operating is difficult,” said Georgina Jolibois, a former member of Parliament for the region.

She said people will have limited access to fruits and vegetables, as the one store that remains open is already busy. Surgical and cloth masks were quickly scooped up and getting cleaning supplies has always been tough.

Some physicians and medical students in the province have launched a GoFundMe campaign to get cleaning supplies and non-perishable food to La Loche. It had raised more than $10,000 as of Friday afternoon.

La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre said residents are OK for now. He expects the closed grocery store will be up and running again in a day or two.

Council has also requested the province close down the village’s liquor store to prevent people from leaving their homes and gathering, he said.

“Inhibitions are not really there when you start drinking.

“For the safety of the community, at least for this week or next week, to contain this virus, those are the measures that we have to do.”

Twelve of 13 new cases announced Friday by the province are in and around La Loche. A Facebook group providing community updates said there are 112 active cases in the village and 17 in the nearby Clearwater River Dene Nation.

Of Saskatchewan’s 544 total cases, 179 are from the far north. Two elders from La Loche have also died from the illness.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said Friday the La Loche outbreak is one of the worst in Canada, “in terms of numbers happening in a vulnerable Indigenous community with a number of First Nations reserves around it.

“This is really a combination of factors that make it very alarming.”

Much of the transmission in the community is happening through young people, added Montgrand.

He said the village is developing an alcohol monitoring program for residents and setting up a homeless shelter.

Ashton Lemaigre, who moved back in with his parents in La Loche to complete university, said people addicted to drugs and alcohol are having a harder time with physical distancing.

“There’s a lot of people who I know that are doing a lot of drug activities that are still out, even though we have security and we have curfews.”

Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili said the Saskatchewan Party government should have seen the risk the virus posed for La Loche and been more prepared.

Premier Scott Moe said there have been supply shortages to the community but they are “very short-term.” The Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency said 300 more cleaning kits were to arrive in La Loche on Friday.

Conservation officers and Mounties are manning checkpoints to restrict non-essential travel in the region.

La Loche is also exempt from participating in the first phase of the province’s reopening plan, which lifted public health restrictions on medical services this week. Retail shops and hair salons are to open later this month.

Moe said the government worked closely with northern leaders to decide on the travel restriction. But they were not unanimous in how it should be restricted.

Ric Richardson, mayor of Green Lake, a village of 500 people south of La Loche, said travel in the area wasn’t restricted until the end of April. The leaders asked for it to be blocked back in March.

“To say that we’re becoming frustrated is an understatement,” he said Friday.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Supreme Court dismisses Indigenous appeal of Trans Mountain pipeline approval

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada will not hear a new… Continue reading

Studies show no consistent evidence body cameras reduce police violence

A Calgary police officer loudly tells an Indigenous man to put his… Continue reading

Social media companies face revenue hit from boycotts

Verizon’s decision to join the growing boycott against Facebook and Twitter risks… Continue reading

Trade deficit narrowed in May as exports rose and imports fell again

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says the country’s merchandise trade deficit narrowed in… Continue reading

Tractor driver arrested after accident kills three children, injures seven

NOTRE-DAME-DE-STANBRIDGE, Que. — Three children under the age of five are dead… Continue reading

‘This year is unlike any other’: Trudeau delivers Canada day address

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and the Prime Minister release video celebrating the national holiday

Michael Dawe: Canada Day festivities have been interfered with before

Because of the restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,… Continue reading

Save-On-Foods stores donate to Red Deer Food Bank

Thanks to some hungry central Albertans, the Red Deer Food Bank is… Continue reading

Canadians Desiree Scott, Nichelle Prince out of Challenge Cup for personal reasons

Desiree Scott has joined fellow Canadian international Nichelle Prince in dropping out… Continue reading

Nurse hopes to use platform to get American expats voting in US election

Nick Nurse wants to make sure Americans living outside the U.S. vote… Continue reading

Judge temporarily blocks tell-all book by Trump’s niece

Distribution of a tell-all book by President Donald Trump’s niece was blocked… Continue reading

Massey Whiteknife embarks on a healing journey in ‘Queen of the Oil Patch’ S2

In the new season of the documentary/reality TV show “Queen of the… Continue reading

Movement for Black Lives plans virtual national convention

Movement for Black Lives plans virtual national convention

Trump, top officials defend response to Russia bounty threat

Trump, top officials defend response to Russia bounty threat

Most Read