Disaster response team helps Northern communities with COVID crisis

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Between helping with vaccine distribution, to operating COVID isolation centres, to providing paramedic, housing and children's services — the Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board (CDSSAB) has a lot on its plate.

The organization's CAO, Brian Marks, said to try and avoid siphoning money from other important services in order to tackle the area's health crisis, CDSSAB asked the province for help.

To his relief, the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre enlisted the assistance of Team Rubicon Canada, a volunteer group of veterans with an expertise in disaster response.

"The agencies that have been delivering for the last 16 months have been doing it night and day, pillar to post," Marks said. "Team Rubicon coming in just provides that level of coordination and consistency across all of the agencies."

Offering a helping hand

The team is providing help with operations, planning, and logistics wherever it is needed in Timmins — mainly with pop-up vaccine clinics and delivering food to people in isolation.

They are also heading up to Moosonee to help with the town's COVID situation — a welcome assist for its mayor.

"Our group has done really amazing work with the isolation centre and looking after people," said Wayne Taipale. "This is just additional help, which we really appreciate having."

Its seventh time in north during this pandemic, Team Rubicon Canada's incident management chief, Eric Goodwin, said rotating groups of veterans will be here for at least the next two weeks.

It all depends on how long the team can help local services develop a sustainable strategy — and get the area's case counts down.

"When we actually develop these systems, we anticipate that there will be a transfer of responsibility back to the community, once they can handle the outbreak," Goodwin said.

Keeping the momentum going

The worry for Marks, however, is that once the team leaves, the pressure will be on CDSSAB to keep things running at the same level.

Which is a difficult spot to be in, he said, seeing as his organization is not receiving extra government funding to support the additional crisis services it is operating, like its pop-up vaccine clinics and isolation centres within local hotels and motels.

"For every dollar we spend today on isolation centres, it’s money we can't use to keep people housed six months from now," Marks said.

So while he is grateful to have the disaster response assistance now, he is pleading with the community to help lighten the load as well by protecting themselves and others against the virus.

That will help end this pandemic sooner, he said, and limit the money spent on managing this crisis.

"If people could just follow the direction of the Porcupine Health Unit — stay two-metres apart, wear a mask, get vaccinated — the sooner we end this, the better off we'll all be."