STONEY NAKODA – Officials confirmed there are still no positive COVID-19 cases on Stoney Nakoda First Nation, as of April 15, as testing opened up to all symptomatic Albertans earlier this week.
While Nation officials said they feel grateful to still be at zero positive cases more than a month later, the testing for all symptomatic Albertans has only started on April 13.
“We have seen from other jurisdictions that have successfully flattened the curve that aggressive testing is essential to controlling the spread,” Alberta Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw said earlier this week.
“Going forward testing all symptomatic Albertans will give us a more complete picture of trending over time.”
Stoney Tribal Administration CEO Ryan Robb said the Nation has been following the Alberta Health Services (AHS) testing protocols as the testing criteria changes.
Prior to testing symptomatic Albertans, AHS conducted testing on those who had travelled out of country and were showing symptoms, health care workers and those over the age of 65, those at the highest risk of local exposure and at-risk populations, hard-hit areas and symptomatic essential workers. Robb also noted that if Stoney band members live in urban areas and tested positive, the positive test would count for that region.
“We are following the provincial guidelines for testing and if someone is eligible based on the guidelines, we will test them for COVID,” Stoney Health Authority director Aaron Kahn wrote in a statement.
Kahn explained all testing is done at the Health Centre, located in the Morley townsite, with proper screening protocol and having a designated room for testing.
“Our nurses are trained on PPE's. We do have a medical transport program and our drivers are trained on PPE's as well and if someone needed to be tested and has no transportation, we can always use our medical transportation vehicles to bring them to the health centre,” he wrote.
Nation officials could not provide information on how many tests have been conducted on Stoney Nakoda.
Alberta officials said they are working closely with Indigenous communities to make sure testing is readily available.
“The specific COVID-19 approach is being tailored to meet the needs of each community. AHS has worked with some communities to support local testing and health services. For others, AHS is partnering with them to take advantage of other health resources, such as mobile medical units or specific 811 lines that conduct the initial assessments and, when appropriate, travel to the families home and conduct the swab,” Ted Bauer, press secretary to the Alberta Indigenous Minister wrote in a statement.
“We are working hard to ensure that anyone in a First Nation or Metis community who needs testing is tested within the 24-hour timeline.”
The new infectious COVID-19 coronavirus hit Alberta over a month ago increasing to 1,870 positive cases, as of April 14, with 48 reported deaths and 917 people recovered. Provincial officials suspect 276 cases are community transmitted.
The Stoney Nakoda Nation which consists of three bands, Bearspaw, Chiniki and Wesley, and three reserve locations, Bighorn, Morley and Eden Valley, has a population of approximately 4,000-5,000 and shares borders with the Municipal District of Bighorn, Canmore, Kananaskis Country, Rocky View County and Cochrane.
While neighbouring regions have positive cases – the MD of Bighorn region which includes Canmore and Exshaw, has 15 cases, five active and 10 recovered, and the Rocky View County region which includes Cochrane has 26 cases, nine active and 17 recovered.
“Some of the positives in the last two to three weeks is we’ve really built a robust command system and we got our Chiefs and council on board an all working together,” Director of Emergency Management Mike Crawford said in a phone interview. As of Wednesday (April 15) morning, officials confirmed that the Nation still had no positive COVID-19 cases.
Chief and council applauded the proactive approach in getting the local State of Emergency declared the same day the province announced a public health emergency while also initiating the Nation’s Emergency Command Centre (ECC) early on to share information, organizer food hampers and mitigate the global pandemic.
“I would like to give the Nakoda Emergency Management team a big thank you. You are doing a wonderful job, please continue,” Bearspaw Councillor Rob Hunter said in a video on social media.
In additional efforts to inform the Nation, emergency services personnel were decked out in personal protective equipment (PPE), sporting face mask and gloves as they handed out COVID-19 information sheets for Nation members visiting the Morley townsite April 9 afternoon.
Several cars lined up as they left the post office, Centex gas station, administration band office or the Stoney Health Centre, where the bi-weekly fruits and vegetable market by Fresh Routes was being hosted. With no grocery store in the townsite, officials acknowledged the issue of Nation residents travelling to neighbouring communities to go grocery shopping and noted that was one of the reasons they wanted to share COVID-19 recommendations.
“We wanted to do an awareness for the Nation members to avoid travelling [if possible], follow government regulations and proper handwashing … we are recommending that they stay home and if they do travel to make sure one person goes but to avoid unnecessary travel and mingling,” Crawford said.
Holding stop signs, Nation firefighters with masks asked drivers to take a quick minute to hear about ways to protect themselves.
Avoid leaving the Nation, only shopping for essentials and handwashing were some key messages given.
In the meantime, the Director of Emergency Management said they are still looking into other options, including restricting access and imposing curfews, but noted nothing had been decided.
Robb said it would be hard to close off every entrance to the reserve, as it is actually unknown how many entrances there are to the Nation with estimates as low as seven but as high as 19.
But as the COVID-19 information evolves, so do the mitigations. Earlier this week, Nation officials took the steps to restrict access as they announced the closure of Star Ranch Road.
“In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Star Ranch Road will be closed effective Friday, April 10, 2020. There will be no access from the Nation from George Fox Trail in Cochrane until further notice,” the notice read.
“The Nakoda Emergency Management team with the Cochrane RCMP will be actively monitoring the road closure. We ask that community members comply with the closure.”
The same day, officials also confirmed that all Stoney Nation buildings are closed except for those conduction essential services. The closed buildings includes all gyms, schools, arena, or any other gathering places.
ECC officials have also been working to dispel rumours, including the recent one where a Cochrane woman who was visiting the Nation was claiming to have COVID-19.
“We have been in touch with Cochrane RCMP as well as Alberta Health Services regarding the situation. We have contacted Alberta Health Services and can confirm that the woman has been tested and that she is not currently infected with COVID 19,” the release stated.
Officials urged Nation residents not to have any visitors in their homes.
“We are after as good an outcome as everyone else,” Robb said in a phone interview.
“We are well-structured, well-planned and have the same sort of heartburn that every tore group has … but should something take a funny twist at least we are better prepared to deal with it."
If band members have questions about COVID-19, food hamper delivery or the Emergency Management COVID-19 Pandemic Plan, call the Emergency Management Information line at 1-833-881-3499.
To stay up to date on COVID-19 Nation updates, visit stoneynakodanation.com
The COVID-19 Nakoda Emergency Management recommendations were:
- Avoid leaving the Nation.
- If leaving for essentials, only one person should go.
- Shop when the store is not too busy.
- Try and keep six feet between you and others.
- Avoid touching your eyes and mouth when you are out.
- Try and have only one person go into the store.
- Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 before leaving home and when you return.
- Bring sanitizing wipes with you so you can clean any shopping cart or baskets you use.
- Stay home if possible.
- Avoid visiting.
- Avoid gatherings.
- Avoid hand shakes and hugs.
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