English River First Nation orders 48-hour lockdown after nine cases detected in ERFN-Patuanak

Workers pose for a photo at a checkpoint near English River First Nation during an earlier wave of the pandemic -- Submitted photo.

A curfew has been imposed and visiting banned on English River First Nation after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared.

According to a public notice dated June 17, the First Nations’ emergency management team has learned of “several” new positive COVID-19 cases in the community of Wapachewunak IR 192D, also known as ERFN-Patuanak. As of Wednesday, there were no positive cases in the Hamlet of Patuanak or in ERFN-La Plonge.

An update posted late Thursday said there are also active cases in La Loche (10), Beauval, Ile-a-la-Crosse and Buffalo Narrows, which each have five or fewer active cases. Birch Narrows/Turnor Lake has one active case, as does Canoe Lake Cree Nation. The update said there are no reports available from any other communities.

Nine people have tested positive and one has recovered. The cases were confirmed to have been from a variant of concern. People who tested positive have been isolated and contact tracing is ongoing. The notice was sent to all English River First Nation/ Patuanak residents Thursday.

The Northern Inter Tribal Health Authority reported 15 cases in the Far North West as of Friday morning. Of those, nine are variants of concern.

“Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority (NITHA) public health officials are advising northern residents that COVID-19 variants of concern (VOC) are increasing in northern Saskatchewan. These VOCs are 30-70 percent more transmissible, meaning they spread more easily thus it’s more important than ever before to follow the Public Health Order. Getting tested, knowing your COVID-19 status, getting your COVID-19 vaccine shot and following the safety guidelines can help protect yourself, your family and your community.”

A full 48-hour lockdown was put into place as of 2 p.m. to allow for the completion of contact tracing. Anyone required to isolate can contact the emergency management COVID response team to arrange for supplies.

Community members have been asked to closely monitor for symptoms and to isolate immediately if any develop.

The band office has been closed and the health centre is by emergency only until further notice. Local radio will be posting updates.

All gatherings and events, including food sales, have been postponed, no visiting or inter-household visits are allowed, a curfew is in effect for everyone from 10:30 p.m.. until 7 a.m. and road monitoring and travel restrictions will be put unto place for two weeks.

Thursday’s public notice warns that enforcement measures are being taken for those who do not follow public health orders.

“Please remember that there is a surge in COVID-19 variants of concern everywhere,” the notice said.

“We must all do our part in ensuring the safety of our community, and especially our vulnerable community members.”

In the Thursday night update, the community urged anyone who was a close contact to a positive case to stay isolated.

The variants are “making the situation far more critical because the virus is spreading easier and faster,” the community said.

“It also hits suddenly and can hit younger people harder. We are trying to get this situation contained to prevent others from getting sick. We do NOT want to see anyone succumb to this virus.”

A post from earlier this week indicated the community is targeting a 70 per cent vaccination rate, but right now, only about 30 per cent of the community is vaccinated.

The Far North West zone as a whole has a population just shy of 30,000. Only about 4,500, or 15 per cent, of the population is fully vaccinated. Only about 35 per cent of the population has received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

English River First Nation is located in the province’s far northwest health zone, 325 km northwest of Prince Albert.