Grand chief sounds alarm as COVID-19 outbreak in Little Grand Rapids grows to 33 cases

By | October 9, 2020

The grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says he’s alarmed by the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the remote First Nation community of Little Grand Rapids.

As of Friday, Little Grand Rapids had a total of 33 confirmed cases, said Grand Chief Arlen Dumas. He expects that number could continue to grow.

“There’s approximately 230 contacts in the community,” Dumas said in an interview with guest host Faith Fundal on CBC Manitoba’s Up to Speed on Friday afternoon.

Little Grand Rapids has a population of 1,300 people, Dumas said. That means roughly a fifth of the population — approximately 263 people — are either known cases or their close contacts.

It’s quite a significant and serious matter,” he said.

The community went to the restricted, or red, level of Manitoba’s pandemic response system last Sunday, after 19 cases were announced. It immediately became the biggest outbreak in a First Nation in Manitoba to date.

Dumas said teams in the community tracing close contacts of confirmed cases are experiencing burnout, and he’s considering asking the military for help.

Dumas said the number of potential cases as a percentage of the overall population is staggering.

“You’d have 100,000 people in Winnipeg,” with a similar ratio of potential contacts, he said. “What would we do in the city in order to try and deal with that issue? And, you know, that’s the reality right now.”

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas says First Nations and health officials have to find new ways of dealing with COVID-19 in remote communities. (CBC)

Little Grand Rapids, about 270 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, is a fly-in community. The nearest airport is not in the community, Dumas said, and residents must use a boat or helicopter to get to the airport.

Access will soon be more difficult, Dumas said, as temperatures drop and the community faces freeze-up on the lake.

Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin previously announced several public health orders intended to stop the spread of the virus on the First Nation. Those orders came into effect Friday.

The orders include a ban on public gatherings. Only businesses providing essential services are allowed to open to the public. 

Only one person per household is allowed to go out to access essential services, unless someone needs medical care. 

Most of the people who have tested positive for the illness are staying in Winnipeg hotel rooms, due to a lack of resources to allow for self-isolation on-reserve, but some are staying in the community.

Dumas said First Nations and health officials have to find new ways of dealing with COVID-19 in remote communities, instead of bringing them to Winnipeg.

He’s considering seeking the creation of a field hospital for the area.

“I think it’s rather alarming, the effect … that COVID is having a Little Grand Rapids right now,” he said. “I think it’s sort of a testament to show what’s coming, and we need to prepare.”

Isolation tents and other infrastructure were on their way to the community on Friday, Dumas said.

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