As COVID-19 variant strains continue spreading in Regina and Moose Jaw, Dr. Ibrahim Khan is warning First Nations in the area about the risk to their communities.
Twenty-one variant cases have been recorded so far in southern First Nations, he said on Wednesday.
“Some of them are linked to the Regina VOCs (variants of concern),” said Khan, the chief health officer for the Saskatchewan section of Indigenous Services Canada (ISC).
“The VOCs are spreading very fast and are very transmissible. With just a light, casual stay with somebody that is positive, that can really transmit the infection.
“These (cases) are the tip of the iceberg. We have a lot of people under investigation and we are waiting for their results.”
Khan declined to identify which First Nations in the area have recorded variant strain infections. He encouraged each community’s leaders to be diligent in taking steps to control COVID.
“The chiefs and the health directors and the nursing teams have been informed," he said. "They’re actively pursuing and following up on those patients. The communities have that authority to release those names."
But active infections among First Nations are trending down, province-wide, Khan said. He reported 92 active cases with zero intensive care unit admissions, as of Wednesday.
And ISC data shows new recorded cases also trending down over the last eight weeks, beginning Jan. 31. That week (Jan. 31 to Feb. 6) ISC recorded 370 new infections; last week it recorded 27.
Still, Khan underscored the importance of strictly following safety guidelines to cut the spread of the virus: Wear a mask (the more the layers, the better), stay at least six feet apart from other people, wash your wands and use hand sanitzer.
Ministry of Health data shows two active outbreaks at southern First Nations: Piapot’s was declared on Feb. 7 as a community outbreak; Zagime Anishinabek (Sakimay) declared an outbreak at its band office on March 16.
Northeast of Regina in the Qu’Appelle Valley, Pasqua First Nation has gone three weeks with zero active cases, after 16 members recovered from the virus.
“Zero homes impacted … it doesn’t take only the leadership," Chief Todd Peigan said. "It takes also the people to comply with the safety precautions."
He credited, in part, the community’s security checkpoints at roads leading into the reserve. The band’s leadership erected the checkpoints in March 2020 to help limit COVID-19 infections spreading among members. They only allow registered members into Pasqua.
“We have four checkpoints running 24 hours a day, with three people working at each one," Peigan said. "There are 60 total people rotating through them."
But like Khan, Peigan urged all Pasqua members (on reserve or off) to stay vigilant, especially as COVID-19’s United Kingdom and South African variants keep crippling younger people.
“I would consider it the third wave, because of how fast the variants spread," the chief said. "We have to refrain from going out when it’s unnecessary."
Khan wants people to use the Easter long weekend to “break the chain of transmission,” saying a surging third wave of the virus and its variants would be “devastating” for First Nations.
Evan Radford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Regina Leader-Post, The Leader-Post