Caribou meat, a makeshift hospital and plenty of hand sanitizer; How a northern Sask. community is confronting COVID-19
PRINCE ALBERT -- Fond Du Lac Denesuline First Nation has had no cases of COVID-19 and Chief Louis Mercedi wants it to stay that way.
"We've been on lockdown going eight weeks now, since March 21, and we had shut down our school way before the province (ordered it) and shut down all huge gatherings," Mercredi said in a phone interview with CTV News.
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Community leaders and members from education, health and security were designated to head up the Fond Du Lac COVID-19 response team.
Band manager Marlene Naldzil helped gather the volunteers. They help out at the Fond Du Lac Emergency Covid-19 Command Centre. Band members can call the centre’s volunteers for help with COVID-19 related problems.
Fond Du Lac only has a health centre and the nearest hospital is in Stony Rapids. Fond Du Lac’s chapter of the Canadian Rangers, trained in emergency response, contributed to the COVID-19 response measures and built a makeshift pandemic hospital for presumptive and confirmed cases.
“We asked them to initiate a place where presumptive cases or where people who have been exposed to COVID-19 could be housed there,” said the communication coordinator from the Fond Du Lac COVID-19 response team, Diane McDonald. “One could be acute and one could be worse. If there was a possible we’d have a place to put people.”
The plastic and wood for the self-contained rooms was donated by the band. Cameco donated 25 beds, mattresses and bedding and Orano donated another 25 mattresses. Lucky Bastard Distillery sent in hand sanitizer and Prince Albert Grand Council shipped up cleaning supplies. Six forehead thermometers were supplied by the Northern Store.
“The mining community has been very good to us,” McDonald said. “We have enough to house 50 people if we needed to.”
To ensure food security, Mercredi said the band organized a community hunt for caribou in their traditional hunting grounds in the Northwest Territories. The meat was packaged and distributed to people in the band to help them comply with federal orders to stay at home.
Mercredi is in favour of the province’s order imposed on April 30 to restrict non-essential traffic in and out of the north and said his community has had a travel ban in place before this, with only essential emergencies or medical cases were allowed.
An evening curfew has kept people at home and children in their yards. Local stores followed also followed 10-person limits inside. He said the good health of his community members has helped them comply with the orders.
“There were a few people that were kind of disappointed but we just kept enforcing, enforcing and now all the people are compliant with the rules we have set in place to protect the community,” Mercredi said.
Since the snow melted the winter road is gone and the only way in and out of Fond Du Lac is by air. They are working closely with the airlines to monitor travelers in and out of the community. All travel is screened and the temperatures of travelers and staff are taken at the airport of people travelling in or out.
People going out and coming to the community have to self-isolate for 14 days or face up to a $2,000 fine if they are caught violating the order, said McDonald.
Leaders plan to use a hover craft to transport emergency medical patients out to Stony Rapids if they cannot get an airplane into the community.