In the face of COVID-19 outbreak, Saugeen First Nation in Ontario calls for help to reverse ‘panic’

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A band councilor in a small Indigenous community on the shores of Lake Huron says he needs outside medical staff to help with a COVID-19 outbreak that has led to 97 cases, at a time of infection rates across Ontario are declining.

“This kind of situation came over us and it caused a lot of panic among members of our community,” said Doran Ritchie, band councilor and chair of the Saugeen First Nation health committee on Tuesday. “Our job is to reverse this panic and assure them that we are doing all we can to overcome it.”

The Saugeen First Nation is an Ojibway community located along the Saugeen River and the Bruce Peninsula, approximately 30 kilometers west of Owen Sound. He declared a state of emergency on June 30 and remains subject to a stay-at-home order.

Of the 97 cases reported since the start of the epidemic, 57 remain active and 40 people have recovered. There are four people hospitalized, two of them intubated. Ritchie said there were no known deaths linked to the outbreak.

He said the community has implemented its pandemic plan and set up three isolation clinics. Donations are pouring in and volunteers are mobilized.

However, Ritchie said the main issue he faces is the lack of trained and fully vaccinated medical staff to run the community’s isolation clinics.

“That’s the big challenge right now,” he said. “Right now we have three clinics ready to go, but we don’t have enough staff to run them. We can’t just take people off the streets to run our clinics.”

Ritchie, Saugeen First Nation band councilor and chair of the health committee, said the epidemic “kind of took hold of us.” (Submitted by Doran Ritchie)

Gray Bruce Health Services, which serves the area, provided immunization clinics and other aids. From Wednesday, door-to-door vaccinations will begin.

The source of the “difficult to pin down” epidemic

Local leaders have met with Canadian Armed Forces personnel about the possibility of them coming to help them, but Ritchie said that will not happen at this time.

He said the source of the outbreak, which led to an increase in the number of cases last week, is not known. The community’s sandy beaches are popular with summer vacationers, and Ritchie said traffic resumed with the onset of warm weather and as the province entered Phase 2 of the economic reopening plan on June 30.

“We are a very active tourist region,” said Ritchie. “It is difficult to determine where this came from.”

For the most part, the people stayed at home and they were responsible. But it has caused a lot of stress and tension in our community.– Doran Ritchie, Saugeen First Nation

Most businesses comply with the lockdown order, but Ritchie admitted that not all businesses keep their doors closed.

However, the community has not had strong uptake of the vaccinations, although Ritchie said their access “has not been a problem.”

He said of the 772 community members eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, about half of them received at least one dose.

He said that for now, the focus is on limiting transmission, increasing vaccination rates and helping outside medical staff in the community before the epidemic worsens.

“For the most part, people stayed at home and they were responsible. But it caused a lot of stress and tension in our community.”


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