'The community is scared': COVID-19 cases spike in La Loche
Published Friday, April 24, 2020 3:32PM CST Last Updated Friday, April 24, 2020 7:07PM CST
SASKATOON -- The community of La Loche is coping with fear as COVID-19 cases climb.
In the past week, 23 of Saskatchewan’s 28 new cases have been in the north or far north regions – which includes La Loche.
“The community is scared. The community is full of anxiety because of all the unknown factors,” Keith Shewchuk, a La Loche councillor and store owner, told CTV News.
On April 17, the province declared an “outbreak situation” in La Loche. Days later, the province announced its plans to reopen the economy.
Shewchuk said he disagrees with the plans.
“Sometimes we feel because we’re way up north – we’re not relevant,” he said.
On Friday, the province reported 10 new cases of COVID-19. The premier said the majority of cases are tied to La Loche.
“Most of today's new cases are in the far north and appear to be related to an outbreak in La Loche,” Premier Scott Moe told reporters during a press conference.
Five people tested positive for COVID-19 in La Loche when the outbreak was declared – including a care home employee and resident. All five cases were linked to someone who travelled to Alberta.
Moe announced a new public health order to try and limit transmission. The new rules restrict all non-critical travel in or out of northern Saskatchewan.
Checkpoints have been established by northern leadership along all highways leading into northern Saskatchewan and Friday's order provides the "full legal authority to enforce travel restrictions," the province said.
The provincial government has also offered fire suppression staff to support the checkpoints if required.
The restriction more specifically covers the Northern Saskatchewan Administration District.
But Shewchuk said it could be difficult to avoid travel as many people work across the border in Alberta, adding the north faces housing challenges.
“We have a lack of housing. Some houses, we have five-to-10 people living in a two-bedroom house. So it’s a big concern if someone’s coming back (from working in Alberta) and they don’t want to live in that environment and possibly spread it,” Shewchuk said.
Moe announced work camp trailers, used as mobile housing, will be brought into the community and the La Loche Community School will be used for those who need to self-isolate.
A portable COVID-19 testing unit has also been set up in the north to provide quicker results and expand capacity.
Officials will be at checkpoints throughout the north to educate people about the virus and enforce curfew rules. La Loche’s curfew is from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Shewchuk applauded the help but hopes more will be done to provide more cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment and mental health support to the community.
“We need resources. Our municipality can’t do it alone,” he said.