By Scott McLean
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Fort McKay is limiting community access as the fourth wave of COVID-19 overwhelms Alberta’s hospitals and cases in the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo area grow.
Fort McKay First Nation (FMFN) and Fort McKay Metis Association (FMMA) agreed to restrict the flow of outside traffic into the community on Sept. 5. The community was also considering starting its own vaccine passport program before the Alberta government announced the creation of one last week.
Chris Johnson, CEO of FMFN, said the decision was made once COVID-19 cases in the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo area hit 100 active cases. At the time of the interview, there were nine active COVID-19 cases in Fort McKay.
“We have specific levels that we have to follow,” said Johnson.
“These are approved by council and recommended by our COVID emergency response team once cases in the RMWB reach a certain limit. That trigger was reached.”
Fort McKay School was also closed for in-person learning for the first week of classes beginning Sept. 7 as a precautionary method.
Northland School Division spokesperson Curtis Walty confirmed the closure and said that the school re-opened on Sept. 13. Packages were prepared for students for at-home learning.
“We’ve acted really quickly,” said Johnson. “We’ve got a very informed community, and they’ve reacted well to the gate and understanding its purpose.”
FMFN spokesperson Gaitane Villeneuve said that community vaccination rate in FortMcKay is more than 80 per cent for second doses. She also noted that the FMFN’s vaccination rate is more than 90 per cent.
Fort McKay introduced a community checkpoint shortly after the first COVID-19 case was found in Fort McMurray on March 19, 2020.
When most COVID-19 restrictions eased across Alberta on Canada Day, the community also removed the checkpoint. Johnson said there are no regrets about removing the checkpoint at that time.
“We’ve had a very calculated system and when we took the gate down we had no concerns in the community,” said Johnson. “Some of those triggers are external factors, which we were comfortable with as well. We’ve been through this before and we will get through it again every time we have to.”
Other rural communities are also enforcing their own COVID-19 restrictions. Janvier has a community gate in place with temperature checks required. Chief Allan Adam of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said McMurray Aviation does rapid-testing on all passengers flying into Fort Chipewyan. The community plans to embrace the vaccine passport guidelines, he added.
“To put it simply, if you’re sick stay home,” said Adam. “You have to remember we also own a grocery store and what does a passport mean for our customers? People need food. We have to look at our options.”
Scott McLean is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the FORT MCMURRAY TODAY . The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.