By Mia Rabson
OTTAWA — The latest wave of COVID-19 is bringing health-care resources in some remote communities in Canada to the breaking point as case numbers explode.
Record-breaking cases have been documented across much of southern Canada in recent days, and while many hospitals are reporting smaller numbers of critically ill patients than in previous waves, they are struggling with a higher absentee rate because health workers are getting sick in much higher numbers.
Those strains are exacerbated in remote communities where access to health care is already quite limited.
Bearskin Lake First Nation, a fly-in community in northern Ontario, declared a state of emergency on Dec. 30 when 43 residents tested positive for the virus. By Sunday, 169 people had confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, more than 40 per cent of the total population.
“That’s a crisis,” Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Derek Fox said in an interview.
Bearskin Lake has no hospital and is usually served by a nursing station with two nurses. An emergency evacuation would take more than three hours for a plane to get in and out from Sioux Lookout or Thunder Bay, and that’s only if weather permits it to land.
A federal rapid response team with three primary care nurses, a paramedic and two environmental health officers landed in Bearskin Lake on Dec. 30, bringing more testing capacity with them. Two public health nurses were sent by the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority as well.
Fox said it’s not enough for a community that has no hospital and no capacity to even determine how sick any of the infected residents are.
“The federal government and the provincial government need to acknowledge this is a crisis,” Fox said. “They’re not treating this like a crisis. They’re waiting to see what happens.”
He said about a dozen of the 49 communities in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation have confirmed COVID-19 cases right now, including the 169 in Bearskin Lake, and roughly 80 more in 11 other First Nations.
Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu spoke with Fox by phone Sunday and said Ottawa is there to help.
“I reiterated that we’ll be there for them, to support them, and that they just need to kind of keep telling us what they need and we’ll work really hard to make sure those resources are in place,” she said.
On Sunday, Hajdu said $483,000 had been approved to help Bearskin Lake with food security, personal protective equipment, funding for local community COVID workers, and supplies like wood cutting and collection.
She said when so many people are sick, and homes are only heated with wood stoves, even ensuring there is wood to burn is a challenge.
Outbreaks in remote communities are also affecting Nunavut, northern Quebec and Labrador.
Nunavut confirmed another 22 cases of COVID-19 Sunday, bringing the total to 196 in just 10 days.
That’s more than one-fifth of the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the territory since the pandemic began almost two years ago, and the territory’s chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson says it is putting immense strain on health care.
“Please remain patient and kind, as there will be continued delays,” he said in a statement issued Sunday.
“Please stay home as much as possible and please don’t take any unnecessary chances.”
Nunavut is discouraging all non-essential travel within the territory and has banned non-essential travel to and from several communities, including Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, Arviat, Igloolik and Pangnirtung.
Travel bans are also in place now in Nunavik in northern Quebec until mid-January, with only critical or essential travel allowed into or out of the region’s 14 villages.
The Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services reported 33 new cases of COVID-19 in the week leading up to Christmas, and 131 between Dec. 27 and Dec. 31.
“The situation is serious,” the health board warned in a statement to the community on New Year’s Eve.
On Labrador’s remote northern coast, where COVID-19 showed up for the first time last week, leaders are pleading with residents to be cautious and imposing tight travel restrictions into local communities.
Innu Nation Deputy Grand Chief Mary Ann Nui said in a Facebook post Sunday that the inability to get confirmed test results quickly is adding to the stress.
The community of Natuashish locked itself down eight days ago after exposures to potential cases on flights into the town and a bar at Trapper’s Cabin, just before Christmas. Nui said the presumptive cases still haven’t been confirmed.
“Living in the northern area takes longer I guess, but it shouldn’t be like that,” Nui wrote.
In Nain — Labrador’s northernmost community — there are 14 presumptive cases, found through rapid testing, but confirming them with PCR tests is slow because of a lack of supplies.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s Health Minister said tests were being deployed to the region, but said the uptick in demand couldn’t have been predicted.
Nui said the local health region should have been more prepared.
Newfoundland and Labrador was one of several provinces recording drastic spikes in COVID-19 case counts on Sunday, logging 466 new infections and toppling a single-day record set just 24 hours earlier.
Nova Scotia also marked a new one-day peak on Sunday, recording 1,184 cases and eclipsing the 1,000 daily case mark for the first time since the onset of the pandemic. The province reported 1,893 new infections over the past two days.
A two-day count from Prince Edward Island came in at 137. Public health officials on the Island say the total number of infections has nearly tripled over the past two weeks.
Ontario’s daily tally fell short of Saturday’s record high, but still came in at 16,714, and the province is now showing more than 100,000 active infections.
Quebec, meanwhile, logged 15,845 new infections on Sunday.
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Veterans Memorial Lodge care home in Saanich – CHEK
Broadmead Care is declaring an outbreak of COVID-19 at Veterans Memorial Lodge care home.
The society says three residents have tested positive for the virus, one in unit A2, two in B3.
Broadmead Care’s medical director has implemented outbreak preventions at the care home, which follow Island Health’s outbreak protocols.
The residents who have tested positive are being isolated in their rooms, and impacted residents and staff are being monitored twice daily for symptoms.
There will be no congregate dining, and social visits have been suspended. Essential visits will continue.
The affected rooms will be under enhanced cleaning and infection control measures and staff movement will be limited wherever possible.
Broadmead Care says they are in contact with Island Health about this outbreak.
The society says all family of affected residents have been contacted, and if someone hasn’t been contact then their loved one is not affected by this outbreak.
Island Health has not yet listed this outbreak on their website, and there are currently 12 other healthcare outbreaks in the health authority region.
Nova Scotia reports 68 people in hospital because of COVID-19 – CBC.ca
Nova Scotia has reported that 68 people are in hospital because of COVID-19, including 10 in intensive care.
A news release from the province Sunday said the patients are receiving specialized care in a COVID-19 designated unit.
The average age of the patients admitted for COVID-19 is 65, the release states. The majority of the patients, 65, were admitted during the Omicron wave.
There are also two other groups currently in hospital related to the virus, according to the release.
- 60 people who were identified as positive upon arrival but were admitted for another medical reason, or were admitted for COVID-19 but no longer require specialized care
- 112 people who contracted COVID-19 after being admitted to hospital.
The abbreviated release did not provide the number of COVID-19 admissions and discharges.
Nova Scotia Health labs completed 3,711 tests on Saturday and 696 new cases have been reported.
There are 447 cases in the central health zone, 108 in the eastern zone, 105 in the western zone and 36 in the northern zone.
Less than than 10 per cent of Nova Scotians are unvaccinated, according to provincial statistics.
As of Friday’s update, unvaccinated Nova Scotians were about four times more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 than someone with two doses of vaccine. That is based on average hospitalizations since the province started releasing the daily hospitalizations by vaccine status on Jan. 4.
Summary offence tickets
Halifax Regional Police issued 11 summary offence tickets Sunday for violations of health regulations.
Police responded to reports of a party at a Bayers Road residence shortly before 1 a.m. Sunday.
Tickets were issued to 11 occupants for failing to comply with provisions of the Health Protection Act.
The tickets carry a fine of $2,422.
Atlantic Canada case numbers
- Newfoundland and Labrador reported one death and 384 new cases Sunday. There are 5,503 active cases and 12 hospitalizations.
- Prince Edward Island reported five hospitalizations Saturday. There were 309 new cases and 222 recoveries in Saturday’s report.
- New Brunswick reported four more deaths and 115 hospitalizations Sunday. The province has 5,265 active cases.
UK’s Johnson plans to scrap COVID-19 self-isolation law – The Telegraph
The United Kingdom is drawing up plans under which people will not be legally bound to self-isolate after catching COVID-19, The Telegraph reported on Sunday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to permanently revoke emergency coronavirus laws as Britain’s COVID-19 cases continue to fall, the report said, adding official guidance would remain but would not result in fines or legal punishment if ignored.
The plans will be worked up over the coming weeks, with an announcement expected as early as the spring, the report said.
Last week, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said COVID-19 self-isolation in England will be cut to five days from seven if someone tests negative twice.
Johnson is also set to lift Plan B COVID-19 restrictions, introduced last month to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, according to an earlier Telegraph report.
(Reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Editing by Daniel Wallis)
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