Neskantaga and Constance Lake recently released statements on measures for the safety and wellbeing of citizens due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Neskantaga announced precautionary measures on March 16 and Constance Lake announced a state of emergency on March 17.
“We’re taking precautionary measures — the reason why we decided to do that was because we don’t want the community coming down with COVID-19,” says Neskantaga Chief Chris Moonias. “We don’t have any resources or infrastructure or the equipment to respond if COVID-19 comes to the community.”
Moonias says the community has cancelled all non-essential travel or any First Nation-related business.
“We’re doing our precautionary measures to minimize the risk,” Moonias says. “We’ve been getting support in the community, we’ve been getting full support and cooperation.”
Moonias says some staff and citizens are self-isolating themselves, especially those who returned home in the last several days.
“They’re staying home, they are monitoring themselves,” Moonias says. “If there is anybody that needs to be checked, we’ll get them checked.”
Moonias says he was one of the people who attended the annual Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention in Toronto, where an attendee from Sudbury tested positive for COVID-19 upon returning home.
“We did take precautions,” Moonias says. “We were taking every precaution necessary, hand sanitizers, wash our hands, the usual precautionary measures.”
Moonias says the community has stocked up on dried goods and other foods that can be stored for a long time in case of a break in the food supply chain.
“We have a Choose Life program here in the community and they went out setting up a couple of fishnets under the ice a few days ago,” Moonias says. “Yesterday they went to go check the nets and distributed whatever they can to whoever wanted to get the fish.”
Neskantaga also suspended its school for two weeks after the March Break and any other large gatherings due to COVID-19 concerns. The community also decided to have only outdoor activities during the winter carnival that is being held this week.
Constance Lake stated its state of emergency was in effect until April 3 or until rescinded by a subsequent order.
“We did it for various reasons,” says Constance Lake Chief Rick Allen. “We did it to get government support, to get the capacity, to get the resourcing that we need to develop our plan, the shortage of nursing that we have, the shortage of (COVID-19) testing kits, the pressing needs that we have.”
Allen says nobody knows what the severity of damage would be if a COVID-19 outbreak hit a community such as Constance Lake.
“It’s not a community lockdown,” Allen says. “We’re just doing our preventative measures and following the day-by-day activities that happen within Ontario, within Constance Lake and within the municipalities to reduce the spread of the (COVID-19) coronavirus.”
The state of emergency measures include: no gatherings of more than 50 people, including places of worship and/or events; self-isolation/staying home — leave home only for basic essential needs such as groceries, medical appointments and emergencies and pharmacy needs; and limiting the local restaurant to take-out only, until further notice. Other measures call for all residents who left the community to affected locations after March 13 to self-isolate for 14 days from the time they returned back and for out-of-town-visitors/non-residents to avoid visiting the community unless it is an emergency.
Non-residents who work in the community are currently allowed to work until further notice.