Bearskin Lake Reporting 71 Cases of COVID-19 – Community in Lockdown

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COVID-19 Outbreak

THUNDER BAY – COVID-19 UPDATE – Bearskin Lake has now a reported 71 cases of COVID-19 in the community and 31 homes in isolation.

The neighbouring community of Muskrat Damn had a convoy of six trucks with wood for heating dispatched tonight on the winter road to support Bearskin Lake.

The community is in a state of emergency as COVID-19 numbers have surged dramatically in the community of about 400 people.

“The valid concerns about the rapid spread of the virus are now being acted on by the health authority. That decision should trigger immediate support from Ontario to protect families and communities”, said NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa (Kiiwetinoong). “First Nations leadership across the North are taking action to protect their communities, and Doug Ford needs to act now to help our local health authorities stop the spread and support families through this Omicron wave,” said Mamakwa.

“People are getting sick at a rapid rate, and they’re scared for their loved ones. Today the 33 Chiefs in Assembly directed the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority to take a lead role in developing guidelines for the coordinated approach to manage the Omicron variant across the region. They have implemented a regional lockdown within all 33 First Nations to begin immediately. The 33 First Nations require immediate access to short-term and long-term support and partnership on the ground to support the success of those efforts. The goal here is to stop the spread and save lives — and the government should get fully on board with that,” continued Mamakwa.

Ontario Indigenous Services Minister Greg Rickford says, “Over the past few days, several First Nations communities across Ontario have seen an increase in COVID-19 cases. I have been in contact with Bearskin Lake First Nation, which declared a State of Emergency yesterday, to make sure they have the resources they need.”

“We will continue to work with Indigenous partners and with the Federal government to provide Bearskin Lake and other communities the support they may need as they work through these difficult times”.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Derek Fox is calling on the governments of Canada and Ontario to provide an urgent response to support First Nations leaders who are overwhelmed by the steady increase of COVID-19 cases across NAN territory. 

“The situation in Bearskin Lake First Nation and the sudden increases in positive cases in other communities is very alarming and requires an urgent response. Our leaders need to see action with on-the-ground supports delivered to their communities without delay,” said Grand Chief Derek Fox. “Since the pandemic began we have worked closely with Ontario and Canada to keep our communities safe, and we need to maintain that effort. As a priority, we must ensure that the needs of each community are identified, and that leadership receives the immediate supports they require. The Omicron variant presents an extremely serious threat, and we hope that the spread of this virus can be contained as quickly as possible.” 

Many communities are losing their ability to care for their members and have exhausted their limited resources. This includes basic needs like drinking water and food deliveries for those in isolation, wood and fuel for heat, and preventative measures to alleviate overcrowding and housing shortages that will help contain the spread of infection. 

The community is now in lockdown, with only essential travel allowed.

The community is in immediate need of: 

  • fuel, portable heaters, woodcutters and equipment to distribute wood to heat homes; 
  • water and food distribution to isolated community members; 
  • security and incident command assistance for Chief and council; and 
  •  additional supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE). 

The COVID-19 situation is changing quickly across NAN territory. Currently, NAN is aware of 89 active cases in 9 NAN communities including Fort Albany, Ginoogaming, Moose Factory, Sandy Lake, Poplar Hill, Lac Seul, Bearskin Lake, Kashechewan and Marten Falls. 

Muskrat Dam First Nation has suspended non-essential and inter-community travel as cases increase across NAN territory. Proof of two negative COVID-19 tests is required before community members are allowed to return. Sachigo Lake First Nation has suspended all inter-community travel until all positive COVID-19 cases in surrounding communities are resolved. 

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