Surge in new COVID-19 infections follows low vaccine uptake in northern Sask., health authority says
SASKATOON -- COVID-19 infections continue to rise in Saskatchewan’s northern communities, prompting a lockdown and a nudge to the provincial government to make this a priority.
According to a report by the Athabasca Health Authority (AHA) 34 active cases are in the region, many of which originate in Black Lake, a small Dene reserve with a population of about 1,325.
This time last month, the region only had three active cases, according to AHA.
Twenty-eight per cent of the region is fully vaccinated according to AHA, and in Black Lake the percentage of fully vaccinated individuals drops to 14 per cent.
The rest of Saskatchewan is sitting at around 54 per cent of people who are fully vaccinated, according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).
On July 23, a COVID-19 outbreak was declared in Black Lake, prompting a community-wide lockdown effective until Aug. 5.
In a letter to residents of Black Lake, the lockdown means no travel in and out of the community except for essential workers or medical emergencies.
Evidence gathered by AHA suggests a link between the rising number of new infections and the low uptake in vaccinations, according to a report.
MOE HAS 'ABSCONDED'
It’s a situation NDP opposition leader Ryan Meili said the province should focus on and remedy.
“This was a pattern that was visible and predictable. Scott Moe and the Sask Party have done very little, they need to work with local elders and leaders to promote the vaccine, they need to look at incentives to get people out and get that vaccine,” Meili said.
He added lifting all public health restrictions province wide on July 11 left many communities still struggling with rising case numbers with little power to stop COVID-19.
“Right now they have people who are positive, know that they are positive and are out in the community and there’s nothing they can do to make sure people quarantine because the Saskatchewan government, Scott Moe, has absconded from the scene, he’s taken off, decided he wants nothing to do to get this under control.”
This week Health Minister Paul Merriman told reporters it’s up to local medical health officers to request public health restrictions be put in place to stop localized spread.
However, Merriman the ministry has not received such requests from northern health authorities.
“We’re not looking at increasing any massive public health orders or provincial-wide orders, there’s nothing on the books now and these are very localized. We will be able to manage this with the help of the community and the leaders,” Merriman said.
As for vaccine uptake, Merriman said the province can’t force the vaccine on anyone, but the recent climb in case numbers and hospitalizations has been linked to people who aren’t fully vaccinated.
“The best thing we can do in the short term and long term is to get vaccinated and adhere to hand-washing, making sure you minimize your contact if there’s an outbreak in a specific area,” he said.
In a statement to CTV News, the Ministry of Health said upon repealing the provincial health orders, isolation is no longer mandatory.
However, cases and contacts are still advised by the SHA to self-isolate and follow other public health recommendations.
This week the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) called on the provincial government to help the Buffalo River Dene Nation as it is also seeing a surge in new COVID-19 infections.