Shamattawa First Nation in Manitoba receives more military support for COVID-19 battle

More help from the Canadian Armed Forces has arrived in Shamattawa following a desperate plea from the First Nation’s chief.

The northern Manitoba fly-in community has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases, with 25 per cent of people living on reserve testing positive for COVID-19, according to Chief Eric Redhead.

Just after noon on Saturday, Redhead posted on Facebook that roughly 25 members of the military had arrived in the community, with more set to arrive later in the day, including medics, nurses and other personnel.

“It’s important to understand that they are only here to help,” he said in the post.

He said the team will set up isolation units at the community’s school and help with tasks like door-to-door grocery delivery, wellness checks and contact tracing. The military will work alongside members of the Bear Clan Patrol, the Canadian Red Cross and Shamattawa’s chief and council, Redhead said.

Redhead said in the post he would provide another update on the situation later Saturday evening.

A Hercules military aircraft arrived in Shamattawa First Nation earlier this week. On Friday, Shamattawa Chief Eric Redhead said a small military assessment team that was sent to the community wasn’t enough support. (Eric Redhead/Facebook)

Both an Armed Forces spokesperson and Redhead confirmed to CBC that a plane was on the way to the community Saturday morning with additional medical and regular military members.

It’s not yet clear how many members of the military are being deployed to the community. 

In Manitoba, “the hardest-hit community right now is Shamattawa,” Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer, said Friday.

Roussin announced 447 new cases of COVID-19 province-wide Friday, more than 100 of which were from Shamattawa. 

“They’re certainly dealing with a significant outbreak,” he said.

Later on Friday, Shamattawa Chief Eric Redhead said his community had passed its breaking point. He said most pandemic team members had tested positive or were in isolation.

“We need to act now. There’s no more waiting,” he said in an interview with CBC News Network.

The chief, who said the test positivity rate on his reserve is hovering between 70 to 80 per cent, blamed overcrowding in his community for the rapid spread of the illness.

An elder who contracted COVID-19 had to be airlifted to Winnipeg, where she is in intensive care, Redhead said. He said all 15 members of the elder’s crowded home tested positive.

“When you have so many people living in a confined space, it’s prime breeding ground for this virus,” he said.

Redhead said a small military assessment team that was previously sent to the community wasn’t enough support. He repeated a call for an additional 60 to 70 members to help in the COVID-19 response in the community, about 745 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

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