Mikisew School resource teacher April Roudani is trying to keep in touch with students through social media, since the high school in Pimicikamak, Man., is closed, and she’s also self-isolating after being a potential contact to a case of COVID-19.
“We’re on complete lockdown,” Roudani said. “We pray for the best. It is scary, because we are a small community … I sat here and thought about it, and I’m like, everybody is a contact.”
Roudani attended a funeral Oct. 18. It’s that gathering health officials believe may have been the source of the community spread.
“It was a big funeral,” Roudani said, adding that everyone took precautions including physically distancing, wearing masks, and using hand sanitizer.
Also known as Cross Lake, located about 530 km north of Winnipeg, the Cree nation was moved to the critical red level on Manitoba’s pandemic response system earlier this week.
$1,296 fine for breaking lockdown rules
As of Wednesday, there were at least 23 confirmed cases, and one person had to be flown out on an air ambulance, according to the most recent post on Facebook by Chief David Monias.
New restrictions state no one is to enter or exit the community. People must stay in their homes and only one person can leave for essentials, like groceries.
The chief warned community members could be fined $1,296 for not obeying the order.
Roudani said she worries some members of Pimicikamak didn’t take the precautions seriously from the beginning.
“It was always said it would only take one person to bring back COVID into the community and take us all down,” she said.
People ignoring health guidelines ‘very upsetting’
Roudani said some people weren’t wearing masks properly. Others didn’t respect physical distancing, like in the lines at the grocery store, where she said people would often stand very close.
“Then they get really offended when you tell them that they need to back up. But it’s your right to tell somebody to back up,” she said.
Roudani said she hopes the new fines will encourage people to stay home.
“There are still people out and about that don’t need to be out there, and that’s the sad thing about it,” she said. “It’s very upsetting.”
The mom of three said she has to explain to her three-year-old why she can’t visit her grandparents.
“We tell her we have to stay home. We can’t go visit Papa or Kookum because that’s where she wants to go all the time,” she said.
She is also concerned about the 500 high school students now stuck at home.
“I do think about some specific students where it’s already been challenging for them, and then to have to go through this and stay home … I worry,” she said.
Pimicikamak member Lynda Wright said she worries for her mother, an elder in the community, and other family there.
She lives in nearby Thompson, Man., and works as a public health nurse in another First Nation.
“My mom and I chat every day. She gives me updates,” she said. “She’s really following all the recommendations.”
While Wright’s brothers are dropping off groceries to their mom, Wright said she has begun to worry about the social isolation her 79-year-old mother will feel in lockdown.
She’s also concerned how quickly COVID might spread in the population of 8,000-10,000, with some big families all under one roof.
“With a lack of housing, there are so many people in a home, and so much potential for the spread of the virus,” she said.
Having people with COVID-19 leave their community to self-isolate, like other First Nations have chosen to do, also has health challenges, she said.
“That’s an added stress on top of the pandemic. Being away from your family, isolating, not in a familiar setting. That could cause further anxiety, stress, and jeopardize your health issues.”
Nurse and Pimicikamak member warns against stigma
Wright said she has confidence in the leadership and health-care response team that has been sent into the community, but is concerned some attitudes might make it hard for officials to track down the cases.
Some community members are posting on social media, she said, and shaming people who have tested positive, which creates stigma and might discourage people from getting tested.
“They’re actually blaming people that are positive,” she said. “They’re making it hard for people.”
As a nurse, she said it’s frustrating to see Manitobans everywhere know the recommendations, but not follow them.
“They’re only there to try and protect the community,” she said. “When we’re asked to stay put for a bit, we need to.”
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