The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and the Hutterian Safety Council (HSC) are working collaboratively to help guide Hutterite communities through the COVID-19 pandemic. The HSC includes Hutterite spiritual leaders, educators, volunteer firefighters, safety instructors, and first medical responders. These councillors are strong volunteers that serve their local communities without reservation.
Since the pandemic began in March, the Hutterian Safety Council established the COVID-19 Safety Taskforce which has joined the efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by producing region-specific bulletins advising Hutterite communities to reduce communal gatherings sizes, to follow physical distancing guidelines, to implement proper hygiene practices in all aspects of their communities, and to fully comply with provincial health orders. Many of these bulletins have been graciously hosted by the Hutterite Health website (www.hutteritehealth.com/bulletins).
This past week, a COVID-19 outbreak was declared on two Hutterite communities in the Rural Municipality of Maple Creek (No. 111) and additional cases are being investigated related to local and interprovincial travel. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognize that we are linked through our common humanity, our common susceptibility to disease and sickness. However, we are also aware of how rapidly stigmatizing individuals or peoples can cause division and conflict.
In the spirit of openness, HSC wishes to acknowledge that there have been challenges getting some Hutterite communities to implement adequate COVID-19 protocols and to abide by the public health orders although most adapted with care and managed the transition somewhat easier than others.
Many Hutterites feel that their communities are isolated and thus are insulated communities. This creates a false sense of security in the face of the COVID-19, and HSC continues to work at dispelling this notion. While the remoteness and the separateness of our communities can be beneficial, it does not eliminate the risk of the virus entering our communities.
Further, we recognize that Hutterite communities are an integral part of the local food network and economy. Since the declaration of the outbreak at two Hutterite communities, the unfortunate misunderstanding has taken root that positive COVID-19 tests would lead to an economic shutdown of their communities. As a result, the Saskatchewan Health Authority experienced some resistance to COVID-19 testing at some Hutterite communities. While the vast majority embraced the leadership of the SHA and HSC, a small group has resisted intervention. This is regrettable, but also not wholly unexpected for a group of diverse people spread over a vast political and geographical area. Like the rest of society, Hutterite Communities feel the impact of disrupted routines and tradition infringing upon requests to adapt to public health orders measures. The Hutterian Safety Council, in collaboration with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, has facilitated communications with these and many other Hutterite communities in order to allay their fears and encourage leaders to work together with public health officials.
We wish to thank all those communities that continue to take the COVID-19 situation seriously and are acting accordingly. A lot of progress has been made, and communities that were lax in implementing proper COVID-19 protocols are now participating in training, education, and taking testing. Strict protocols have been put in place on impacted colonies including self-isolation and additional hygiene practices. Members are committed to eradicating the virus in their communities and to ensure that it does not spread to the surrounding communities.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority would like to thank the leadership of communities in the Maple Creek area for their support when working with SHA to contain the virus. The decision to do so is the only way to retain consumer confidence and expedite the reopening and recovery of the SK economy.
While it’s natural to be concerned about COVID-19 and its potential impact on family or community, it is not helpful to stigmatize those who are getting tested or who test positive. We all live in various communities which are defined by unique borders. These borders are useful in organizing our provincial, rural, or urban lives but make no difference whatsoever in the natural world. The coronavirus affects all our communities and as such we share a common responsibility to support each other through these challenging times. Activities that single out or create unfair biases between neighbours and our unique communities are contrary to the spirits of unity, kindness, and generosity that define our province.
Unity and solidarity will empower us to face this crisis together and compel us to have deeper compassion and understanding so that we build safer and more resilient communities in this great province.
In summary, Saskatchewan Health Authority and the Hutterian Safety Council are committed to building and strengthening intercommunity and interprovincial relationships that will create safer and healthier communities within our provinces.