Current COVID-19 Situation in Ross River
Ross River Dena Council advises all community members that as of 3:00 p.m. on Friday, August 20, 2021 the number of active cases in Ross River has increased to 20, after more positive cases were detected at the rapid testing clinic on Wednesday and Thursday.
Overall the clinic was successful at detecting a total of 13 cases of COVID-19 amongst the approximately 150 residents who requested a test over a three-day period. As a result, Ross River reached a total case count of 22, however two recoveries have been confirmed over the past 24 hours, lowering the total count to 20.
All individuals who received a positive result this week are now self-isolating, and all close contacts and household contacts are being notified and asked to self-isolate and self-monitor for symptoms immediately out of an abundance of precaution.
Council also reminds community members who have been self-isolating following the exposures from last week that they must continue to self-isolate even if they received a negative test result at rapid testing this week.
You must continue to self-isolate until Yukon Communicable Disease Control or the Ross River Health Centre gives you the all clear.
This is now the highest case count in the community since the start of the pandemic and it is anticipated that the number of active cases will continue to rise over the next week as numerous close contacts and household contacts could begin to experience symptoms in the coming days.
- Shortness of breath
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Loss of sense of taste or smell
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle aches
If you or someone you know is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, please self-isolate immediately and contact the Health Centre at 969-4444 to arrange for a COVID-19 test.
Contact Tracing Under Way
Contact tracing is led by Yukon Communicable Disease Control (YCDC) in Whitehorse and involves reaching out to those who were in direct contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. If you are contacted, a representative of YCDC will play an extremely important role to guide you on next steps and help answer any questions you may have about your current situation.
Extraordinary Challenges Will Require Extraordinary Solutions
With approximately 40% of Yukon’s total active cases now in our community, we are all extremely concerned for the well-being of our elders, our families and the most vulnerable members of our community.
Council wishes to express our sincerest gratitude for the prayers received from across the Yukon, and we would like to thank everyone who has been reaching out to better understand our current COVID-19 challenges the origins of vaccine hesitancy in our community.
We are proud of the safety measures that have helped our community remain relatively free of COVID-19, however we now recognize that COVID-19 is here, and that we face a range of extraordinary challenges that will require some extraordinary solutions.
For those who may be unfamiliar with our current COVID-19 challenges, here are some of the more significant issues we face as our community prepares for more cases:
- Many of our community members are living in substandard and overcrowded homes, including elders and youth, therefore household exposures represent a significant threat to families and those who may have visited with others in recent days;
- Many community members do not have cel phones or Internet at home, therefore on-the-ground efforts are essential to keeping community members informed during a crisis, both in English and in our traditional languages;
- Numerous community members struggle with addictions and have not been vaccinated;
- Numerous community members have pre-existing health conditions are cannot be vaccinated;
- Many of our community members have been uncomfortable visiting the Health Centre to receive the standard PCR COVID-19 test (long swab). As a result, some became sick but were not counted or tracked by territorial officials because they had not received a positive test result. Council requested rapid testing support on July 31, August 4, and August 10 but was advised there were not enough active cases to warrant a clinic. When a rapid testing clinic was eventually approved for August 17, approximately 150 community members proceeded to get a test over three days – and 20 cases were detected. This is significant evidence that having a rapid testing solution available in Ross River would be a legitimate approach to addressing testing hesitancy. With the rapid testing clinic now over, Council is concerned that hesitency will become a factor once again.
- Due to the number of new exposures, Ross River Dena Council is no longer able to track which members have been exposed and who must remain in self-isolation. This will now be fully managed by the Ross River Health Centre, and RRDC’s efforts will focus on providing assistance using the Ross River COVID-19 Support Line and by responding to requests for community-level support from community members and the Ross River Health Centre;
- Numerous members of RRDC staff have been exposed and must now self-isolate, which is now impacting our ability to deliver services to the growing number of individuals in self-isolation;
- While there is an office available for a mental health worker in the community, it has been empty for over a year and the regional mental wellness phone line was discontinued;
- Volunteers are doing their best to support members who are self-isolating alone and may be struggling with mental wellness and addictions, however a more sustainable approach is needed; and
- The Dena General Store, the only store in the community and a central gathering place, has been closed to the public since the outbreak began June. This was done to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community. Staff have been working tirelessly to keep up with deliveries and orders for pick-up, however with so many individuals now in self-isolation, and with so many exposures, a new approach to pick-up and delivery will be required should the numbers continue to increase. Council is aware that closing the store would increase the risk to our neighbouring communities, as such, we are exploring solutions that would keep the store open in the event that COVID-19 cases continue to accelerate. Should Council opt to issue a Stay-at-Home Notice this would require a plan for the mobilization of grocery delivery, mail delivery and banking services.
Additional COVID-19 impacts and observations made by Council since the start of the pandemic include:
- Numerous youth have missed an entire year of school and still do not have Internet at home to support virtual learning;
- A staffing shortage combined with COVID-19 safety challenges along with difficulties finding contactors has severely limited our ability to build new homes or repair existing homes, including the installation of much-needed ramps for elders;
- Ross River Dena Council Offices have been closed to the public since mid-June and phone and Internet challenges have limited our ability to respond to requests from community members;
- Alcohol continues to be purchased in Faro and sold to minors in Ross River, resulting in gatherings and high-risk activities that pose an immediate risk to our population. With no budget for safety officers in the community, and no arrests made by RCMP, this has resulted in complex challenges that have a direct impact on everyone’s efforts to navigate a health crisis;
- CEMA enforcement is led by the Ross River RCMP detachment, however there has been high turnover and limited capacity to respond as the detachment is currently responsible for both Ross River and Faro, which is also short staffed;
- Ross River is an unincorporated community, which means there is no municipal government to assist the First Nation with essential services to community members;
- Ross River currently does not have a fire department and some residents are currently living in abandoned buildings that are not equipped with working smoke detectors;
- Phone lines, cel phone services and Internet services are frequently down at the First Nation Offices and across the community, and there are no technicians in the community;
- The first phase of a three-phase Re-Opening Plan remains in place, allowing up to three staff members to be in RRDC Offices at one time, however employees who feel uncomfortable about coming to work during an outbreak are encouraged to work from home, which can be difficult due to limitations associated with connectivity and other factors;
- Recreation facilities in Ross River have been closed for more than a year, which is having a significant impact on our youth;
- Many of our community members are survivors of the Residential School system but were unable to travel to the ceremony in Lower Post due to COVID-19 concerns, which means healing and accessible mental health support for our members remains as a priority;
- COVID-19 Announcements are often focused on Whitehorse and do not reflect Yukon’s rural reality, and therefore do not inspire our members to believe in the messages being delivered by other levels of government; and
- Our elected Member of the Legislative Assembly has not visited or reached out to assist our community since the election.
With all of this to consider, we look forward to working with our federal and territorial partners over the days, weeks and months ahead to find real solutions that will help keep our elders, our families and the most vulnerable members of our community safe this fall and winter.
What is Needed Right Now
Council is now collecting information to fully assess the scope of work ahead, but has established that there are six key areas that require immediate attention:
- Ongoing Rapid Testing Support – Ongoing rapid testing will be essential to help address testing hesitancy in the community, as many of our members, including elders, do not wish to receive the standard PCR (long swab) COVID-19 test. Council is now asking for a permanent rapid testing solution to be available at the Ross River Health Centre as a way to remove this extremely challenging barrier, which is already had a negative impact on our health and wellness outcomes, and with multiple elders hospitalized we ask that this be considered as the highest priority;
- Delivery Services Support – Temporary workers are needed, preferably vaccinated community members with vehicles who can help deliver groceries and medication to elders and individuals in self-isolation;
- COVID-19 Safety Stop Support – Temporary workers are needed at the COVID-19 Safety Stop, preferably vaccinated community members with a strong voice and knowledge of current COVID-19 situation;
- Mental Wellness Support – A phone support worker is needed in the community who can listen, answer questions and offer guidance that reflects a genuine understanding of the community and its people;
- Community Outreach Support – A temporary COVID-19 Coordinator position is still available and is open to anyone who can assist with the development and distribution of COVID-19 information for community members at this very important moment in our history; and
- Community Safety Officers – Regarding enforcement, RCMP have a responsibility to follow up on CEMA infractions, however a more proactive approach will be essential to help prevent further spread of COVID-19 in Ross River. Council believes Community Safety Officers are needed immediately, however we do not have a budget nor are there trained staff available to assume this role. We are now seeking any assistance to help mobilize safety officers immediately.
Council will be working with our government partners to help advance these priorities in the days ahead, but we welcome anyone who is interested in helping or volunteering to please call the Ross River COVID-19 Support Line at (867) 747-0099. Your time and support will be instrumental to helping us flatten the curve and save lives in Ross River. Please call if you have any questions about the priorities above or if you wish to suggest alternative solutions that worked in other remote communities. All suggestions will be welcomed.
Understanding Vaccine Hesitancy
As a proud Yukon First Nation, we respect everyone’s views about the vaccine and remain committed to ensuring our community members have the information they need to make an informed decision.
Council continues to work with our partners to ensure there is awareness of and access to the vaccine, testing and other support services at the community level and we will continue to remind our members that the vaccine is considered to be the most effective way to protect yourself against COVID-19.
As of August 14, out of 355 people, 47% have received both doses and are fully vaccinated and 60% have received one dose of the vaccine.
Council also wishes to recognize that there are many individuals on Facebook and message boards who may be unfamiliar with the origins of vaccine hesitancy in our community. Council understands and appreciates the urgency of your messages and respects and appreciates your point of view, and we thank everyone for expressing your concerns.
Council is also very appreciative when we see comments from those who are familiar with the origins of vaccine hesitancy in our community.
Since January Council has stressed that a strong and respectful working relationship with our partners will serve as the foundation for dialogue about hesitancy, and we continue to ask for compassion, patience and respect as we face another extraordinary moment in our history.
With your prayers, and with the strength and knowledge of our elders to guide us, this important effort to work with our federal and territorial partners will continue.
Protecting Our Most Vulnerable Community Members
As the COVID-19 situation in Ross River advances Council is asking everyone to please remain calm, to keep looking out for one another and to continue taking every possible precaution in the days ahead.
Your efforts to practise the Safe 6+1 and follow the local COVID-19 safety measures will play an important role to keeping our elders, our families and the most vulnerable members of our community safe.
Council is asking everyone to please continue to:
- Wear a mask
- Wash your hands
- Stay at least six feet apart
- Do not participate in gatherings
- Do not visit with others
- Self-isolate after travel if unvaccinated
With 20 cases and numerous exposures in the community, now more than ever it will be important to contact the Ross River COVID-19 Support Line at 747-0099 or the Ross River Health Centre at 969-4444 if you, or someone you know, is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
Help Us Stay Connected
While there is ongoing support for the individuals in self-isolation using the Ross River COVID-19 Support Line, there may be some individuals who do not have phones, and may be unaware of the dangers and/or may be showing symptoms.
If you observe a community member who is sick and is not self-isolating, please call the Ross River COVID-19 Support Line at 747-0099 and we can help by providing temporary cel phones and self-isolation support for individuals in need.
Travel Advisory – Do Not Visit Ross River At This Time
We can all help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by following travel advisories that have been put in place by Yukon First Nations and municipalities.
With the current outbreak impacting families in Ross River, Watson Lake, Carmacks and Faro, Council is asking Yukoners and travellers from outside of the territory to please continue to respect the travel advisory for Ross River, which reads as follows:
- NO VISITORS – Please do not visit Ross River at this time;
- ROSS RIVER CITIZENS: ESSENTIAL TRAVEL ONLY – Ross River citizens are asked to respect all travel advisories currently in effect and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our neighbouring communities of Watson Lake, Faro and Carmacks. Please refrain from travelling to these communities unless it is absolutely necessary (i.e. for medical reasons)
Please visit the Council of Yukon First Nations website for more information about current travel advisories.
Current Risk Level 5 (Extreme)
As of July 30, Ross River continues to have the lowest vaccination rate in Yukon, with approximately 45% of our population now fully vaccinated. Today Ross River had the most new cases in a single day and reached the highest number of active cases since the start of the pandemic. For this reason, the current COVID-19 Risk Level for Ross River remains at Level 5 (Extreme) and the following COVID-19 safety measures remain in effect:
- The Dena General Store will now be closed on Sundays and Tuesdays for cleaning and store management advises that new safety measures will be in place to support pick-up and delivery services, depending on the COVID-19 situation in Ross River. To place an order for delivery please call 969-2280 and/or send an email to email@example.com and someone will respond as soon as possible;
- Tu-Lidlini Petroleum advises that the gas station will have reduced hours from 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. until further notice and that customers are strongly encouraged to use the Cardlock system to pay for fuel;
- Banking services will be available at the Dena General Store on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. – services are provided at the door, as the store is currently closed to the public.
- The following travel advisory is now in effect:
- NO VISITORS – Please do not visit Ross River at this time;
- ROSS RIVER CITIZENS: ESSENTIAL TRAVEL ONLY – Ross River citizens are asked to respect all travel advisories currently in effect and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our neighbouring communities of Watson Lake, Faro and Carmacks. Please refrain from travelling to these communities unless it is absolutely necessary (i.e. for medical reasons) Ross River Dena Council offices will remain closed to the public until further notice;
- Ross River Dena Council offices are now in the first phase of a three-phase Re-Opening Plan, which allows access to up to three staff members into RRDC buildings at one time; Ross River Dena Council will continue to engage with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the Department of Health and Social Services and the COVID Response Unit to help strengthen community-level support.
These measures were introduced in response to the outbreak in Whitehorse and the presence of COVID-19 in multiple communities, including Ross River. Council continues to work with territorial health authorities and our neighbouring communities to monitor the situation and takes this matter very seriously.
Other COVID-19 Considerations
Here are some additional considerations and resources to help keep Ross River safe:
- If you or someone you know had really mild symptoms and recently tested negative for COVID-19 this is good news, however it is not the end of the story. If symptoms get worse in the days (and weeks) following a test, it’s a good idea to self-isolate and call the Health Centre at 969-4444 to arrange for another test – when it comes to COVID-19, it’s way better to be safe than sorry;
- For the latest COVID-19 Self-Isolation Guidelines: https://yukon.ca/en/self-isolation-covid-19;
- If you see someone who was known to be self-isolating but may not be following the current the self-isolation guidelines, you can report this activity here;
- If you live with others and are not able to self-isolate, please inform the Health Centre or Ross River Dena Council and efforts will be made to arrange for temporary self-isolation options; and
- Anyone seeking mental health and wellness support are encouraged to call the LifeWorks Crisis Support Line at 1-844-751-2133 (open 24 hours, 7 days a week) or call (867) 332-5468 to reach the Mental Health, Counselling and Crisis Support Line for Ross River, Pelly Crossing, Carmacks and Faro citizens.
Ross River Dena Council has established the RRDC COVID-19 Action Plan Working Group to advise Council and help coordinate COVID-19 community outreach and support efforts during an unprecedented public health emergency. For more information about the Working Group or if you would like to volunteer and help make a difference, please send an email to the Working Group Co-Chairs Verna Nukon at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or Dylan Loblaw at email@example.com. You can also reach us by calling the Ross River COVID-19 Support Line at 747-0099 at any time.
Ross River Dena Council