Schools, public buildings in central Alberta First Nations community closed due to COVID-19

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Public buildings, including this Samson Cree Nation gym, are closed in Maskwacis due to COVID-19.   (Submitted by Kacey Yellowbird - image credit)
Public buildings, including this Samson Cree Nation gym, are closed in Maskwacis due to COVID-19. (Submitted by Kacey Yellowbird - image credit)

The four First Nations of Maskwacis have closed all schools and public buildings due to increasing COVID-19 cases and low vaccination rates in the central Alberta community.

Maskwacis Health Services, along with the directors of emergency management of the Samson, Ermineskin, Louis Bull Tribe and Montana nations, announced the closures Friday in a joint statement on social media.

The restrictions, which came into effect Friday, will remain in place until further notice, officials said.

Residents of Maskwacis, about 100 kilometres south of Edmonton, are also being urged to limit unnecessary travel, avoid large social gatherings and limit outside visitors.

As of Friday, there were 139 active cases of COVID-19 in Maskwascis with four community members in hospital with the disease.

As of two weeks ago, according to data posted online by Maskwacis Health Services, the community had 79 active cases.

There have been 18 COVID-related deaths in Maskwacis since the pandemic began.

Fewer than half of all residents are fully vaccinated, the public notice says.

"Our community is less than 50 per cent fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and as such are at a higher risk for outbreaks," the notice says.

All 11 schools and three Head Start early education programs in the community are closed to students and the public starting Monday.

The community closures will be reassessed on Oct. 13, a notice issued by the Maskwacis Education Schools Commission said.

Schools will prepare homework packages for kindergarten to Grade 12 students with enough material for two weeks, said Bruce Cutknife, an Indigenous knowledge co-ordinator for the schools commission.

The packages, including meals for students, will be delivered Tuesday and Wednesday, he said.

"Steadily rising numbers are always a concern, and I think not just our community, but communities everywhere else," Cutknife said.

"When they start to see children getting the infection, that certainly raises a lot of concern."

Community leaders will be looking for a drop in COVID-19 cases and an increase in vaccination rates before reopening, Cutknife said.

"We are hoping to ensure that the numbers of vaccinations increase not only in our workplace but also in the community," he said.

"And to have a bit more co-operation with the people to ensure that we don't have a repeat of the numbers increasing to triple digits."

Bruce Cutknife/Google Meet
Bruce Cutknife/Google Meet

Kacey Yellowbird, manager of Samson youth and sport development, said while young people in the community are anxious to participate in sports and other extracurricular programs, the measures as necessary.

"I'm a father of young children and I see how any lockdown affects our youth mentally," Yellowbird said.

"In future, programs and services will get back to some sort of normalcy but we want to make sure everybody's safe first and foremost."

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