M’CHIGEENG – The community centre in M’Chigeeng First Nation on March 10 was packed as Dr. Mike Bedard of the Assiginack Health Family Team prepared to deliver a seminar on the impending COVID-19 pandemic, what people could expect and what people should do to protect themselves and their loved ones once the coronavirus begins to make its presence felt in the community.
M’Chigeeng Health Services manager Robert Beaudin began the evening by noting that the event was intended to get vital information out to M’Chigeeng residents and those of the neighbouring communities. He noted that the clinic managers and nursing staff were available in the back of the hall as supports as well.
Master of ceremonies for the evening, and the all candidates’ meeting that was to follow the COVID-19 update, was former Aundeck Omni Kaning chief and (former Anishinabek Nation grand council chief) Pat Madahbee.
“There is obviously a lot of concern,” said Mr. Madahbee. “Information is the key and there has been a great effort here tonight to provide that information.” He noted that the information session would last approximately an hour, ending at 7 pm when the all candidates’ meeting would take place.
Ogimaa-kwe Linda Debassige took to the podium to offer opening remarks for the information session, noting that she had had “an eye on this since September, watching credible reports out of Wuhan” and went on to provide a solid overview of what was known so far about the outbreak. (The COVID-19 outbreak had not yet been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization; that would take place the following day on March 11.)
Ogimaa-kwe Debassige noted that the breakdown of cases appears to be that 80 percent of those infected would experience mild symptoms, 15 percent would feel more significant symptoms and become “pretty sick,” while five percent would fall critically ill and require a lot of support. She noted that 20 percent of those infected would probably show no apparent symptoms but would still be able to spread the virus to others. In any event, it would be 40 to 48 hours before those who have been infected would present with an illness.
“So out of M’Chigeeng’s estimated population of 1,000 people, 800 of these could expect to have mild symptoms, 150 would have more severe symptoms and 50 people would be critical,” said Ogimaa-kwe Debassige. Those numbers don’t take into account the higher number of people in the community who have compromised health issues, she cautioned. “I myself have hypertension, so I too am at higher risk.”
Ogimaa-kwe Debassige cautioned her listeners to not fall victim to “fake news” and believe that this is just like the flu (short for influenza). “It isn’t,” she said, going on to suggest people should get their information on this serious topic from credible sources. “This is going to affect the most vulnerable in our community,” she said. “We need to be aware of the situation and take steps to prepare. We need to work together and in the best interest of our community.”
Ogimaa-kwe Debassige assured the audience that she and her staff continue to educate themselves and plan for the best route forward.
Dr. Bedard then came to the podium and congratulated the M’Chigeeng community for being proactive in facing the coming challenges presented by COVID-19.
“I don’t know what I am going to add to what Chief Debassige has said,” he said. “I agree with Chief Debassige. We need to deal with this right now. If we wait until it is already here, it will be too late.”
The COVID-19 virus presents unique challenges, noted Dr. Bedard, largely because it is something brand new. While the virus is not as deadly as SARS, there are a lot of unknowns “because we have never encountered this bug before.”
Dr. Bedard noted that the forecasts of how many Canadians will be infected by the COVID-19 virus range from 35 percent to 70 percent. “When you see ranges that big, it means they simply don’t know,” he said. “It is going to be mild for most, thank God for that. But it can be so severe that our entire health system can collapse. We have never seen anything like this in our lifetimes before.”
“I have never been in a position where I may not have a hospital, it has never been in the equation,” he said. “There will be a lot of thinking after this one is over on how to prepare for the next one.”
Dr. Bedard said that, in times like this, he falls back on the advice of his grandmother Murphy. “She was a World War II nurse and she always yelled at us to keep things clean,” he said. In times of contagion, it was in keeping things clean that outbreaks were contained.
One of the great challenges with this virus is that it does not preclude one coming down with the other common illnesses that people encounter in the wintertime, notably the common cold. Both can impact breathing and will increase risks.
“So what did grandma do? Cleaned everything, washed everything!” he said. “That should start now.”
Dr. Bedard noted that there was a danger in the success of these efforts, should the virus prove to not be a crisis, but owned that he was fine if “I look a little silly. I have never wanted to be wrong more than now.”
Evidence coming in from those countries that have failed to quickly take drastic actions to limit the spread of COVID-19, such as Italy, are currently proving Dr. Bedard is likely to suffer no fear on that front.
“You guys are way ahead of the curve,” Dr. Bedard congratulated the M’Chigeeng community. “This is the best place to be.”
To strengthen immune systems, he suggested taking vitamin D, zinc lozenges and loading up on vitamin C. “From there, it’s the basics,” he said, “nutrition and exercise.” And a whole lot of hand-washing and generally keeping a clean personal environment.