Percy Kenny said the people infected by COVID-19 in his small Saskatchewan community felt as if there was a “black mark” upon their home.
“We keep reassuring them that they’re not alone in this,” he said. “They’re starting to feel better they’re starting to tell themselves ‘the community is backing us.'”
He said he’s known the affected family for years and tries to Facetime often, while his family helps with groceries “and trying to keep them comfortable in a positive way.”
Kenny lives in English River First Nation and works in Patuanak — both northern communities — and has been supporting the Northwest Incident Command Centre.
The outbreak in the north has grown and case numbers are still expected to rise. As of Monday, there are 42 active cases in the far north and 10 in the north. Twenty-nine active cases are in La Loche, which has a population of 2,827.
As the number of cases grows, questions about resources remain.
Kenny said support has been strong thus far from Métis Nation–Saskatchewan, and federal and local governments, but said they need more help from the province.
“We’ve been pleading and crying and scratching on their door to try to help us monetary wise, in whatever way they can,” he said. “It’s like a big no, like we’re on our own.”
Resources are needed for helping people isolate, for food, for checkpoints and for mental health supports, he said. The PPE is also still not sufficient, he added.
“The province should recognize where we live. Because our communities are spread apart far. We don’t have the tools or the mechanisms to fight this thing,” Kenny said.
The provincial NDP and mayors in the north previously asked the province for $10 million for region.
Premier Scott Moe has not committed to direct financial support. Moe said Monday that resources like testing options, staff and isolation support had been provided in La Loche. He said supports were being branched out to Patuanak, but didn’t specify what resources.
He also addressed questions about the travel restrictions implemented Friday. Some community leaders said the northern travel restriction came without consultation, while others say it happened days after it was asked for.
“What if we have a second wave of this? Then what? Are we going to kill our own people in Saskatchewan?” Kenny said, before questioning what it means for northerners.
“[Moe] should be seeing what’s happening with us up north versus what’s going on in the south. Saskatchewan is not two provinces.”
Georgina Jolibois, a former MP who lives in La Loche, agreed.
“It’s the same old story. The provincial government does not take northern Saskatchewan seriously. That’s the common thing that I hear over and over again,” said the former MP who lives in La Loche.
The outbreak stems from a positive case, identified April 15, that originated in Alberta.
People returning from out-of province have been asked to isolate for 14-days, but there are no restrictions on such travel. The government had not indicated pursuing that.
Jolibois said she’s worried for her niece, whom she’s living with, and for her parents who also live in the community.
She said isolation is not always simple in the area. She’s fearful for the elderly with limited income in the community, those who have to live in overcrowded situations and those without homes.
Travel to Alberta will continue because people need to work, which means the community remains under an ongoing risk, she said.
Jolibois echoed the need for long-term support from the province, noting that in addition to PPE and financial assistance, items like food hampers, children’s supplies and personal hygiene products will be needed. There’s also the issue of mental health support for a region that has long been challenged by a lack of resources.
She said it seems like community members are slowly mobilizing to help one another. The emergency operation centre in La Loche was to be up and running Monday.
“They’re scrambling to put everything together,” she said. “They’re still catching up, but they’re doing the best that they can.”