Military sent to Opaskwayak Cree Nation after every resident at care home contracts COVID-19

The Canadian Armed Forces have arrived at Opaskwayak Cree Nation, as the northern Manitoba First Nation grapples with a COVID-19 outbreak in the community and at a care home where every resident has tested positive.

Seven military members from CFB Shilo in Manitoba are on the ground at Opaskwayak as of Thursday, said Onekanew (Chief) Christian Sinclair.

The military is there to assess the situation and meet with medical staff, and are “getting an idea of exactly what will be required once they exhaust all the [health-care] resources within the region,” he said.

Sinclair expects medical reinforcements to follow.

“That’s exactly why they’re there,” he said of the military’s involvement, “and what we expect.” 

The Rod McGillivary Memorial Care Home on OCN has reported infections among all 28 of its residents (17 of whom have shown symptoms) and 17 of the home’s workers, Sinclair said. He has previously said there were 48 workers in total at the home.

The outbreak began on Oct. 21, when a staff member became infected. One resident of the home has died and the reported hospitalizations include a nurse from the care home.

Cases are rising in Opaskwayak — a community about 520 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg — and in neighbouring communities. A growing proportion of community members have been infected with the illness, filling self-isolation units set up at a veterans’ community home and school.

The community is under a strict lockdown, under which only one person per household can leave for essential supplies, with exceptions for essential service workers. Social gatherings with non-household members are banned. 

A spokesperson with the Canadian Armed Forces said the military’s reconnaissance team is also assessing the virus’s impact in The Pas, the town that neighbours Opaskwayak.

“This assessment is being done so that the CAF can be prepared if a formal request for assistance is received from provincial authorities,” the spokesperson said in an email.

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