Close quarters on Pimicikamak Cree Nation at core of COVID-19 spread there, says its chief

·3 min read

Chief David Monias of Pimicikamak Cree Nation (PCN) said that the rising COVID-19 cases in the PCN are due to overcrowded housing in their community.

As of Tuesday the community, also known as Cross Lake, has 107 confirmed active cases which more than doubles the case count from Friday when 42 members tested positive for the virus.

“When the pandemic first started, we said that this would be devastating for First Nations in the long-run because of overcrowding and the lack of housing in the community,” said Monias during a press conference on Tuesday.

“It is hard to isolate or social distance when you have a great number of people in your home.”

According to Monias, approximately 32 households in PCN have been affected so far. Currently, more than 300 people in the community are close contacts of a positive case.

“With the housing situation, what we have seen in a number of communities is that a couple of cases turn into many cases very quickly,” said Dr. Michael Routledge, Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin medical advisor.

“That is a dynamic that is oftentimes specific to some of the living conditions that exist for First Nation communities.”

PCN, about 530 kilometres north of Winnipeg, reported it might have at least one suspected case of the coronavirus variant first detected in the United Kingdom.

The sample was sent to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg for confirmation.

As health officials and leadership are working late nights and early mornings, Monias is worried about their mental well-being and the mental wellness of his community members.

“Isolation has created havoc on mental health. People have anxiety and people are depressed. We are trying to figure out a way to alleviate that,” he said.

On Monday, Monias reached out to the federal government and the military asking for more nurses in the community so the 40-person Pimicikamak pandemic response team is not overworked.

“I continue to be amazed by the people in our communities that step up to be heroes. There is a saying now familiar to the people on social media, ‘Not all heroes wear capes,’ and that represents all our people at the front lines,” said Grand Chief Garrison Settee, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Inc.

“I cannot say enough that people at the front lines are risking their lives every day to help us ensure the numbers go down. To the doctors, nurses, paramedics, those working in the pandemic response teams, constables and the RCMP, I want to say without you, we could not have done what we are doing today.”

The organization has a Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCRT) to provide mental health support services to all 63 First Nations within Manitoba.

Those services can be accessed for several reasons including but not limited to death by suicide or homicide, missing persons, violent assaults, multiple suicide attempts or other reasons that may cause trauma to a group of people.

Any Manitoba First Nation can request MKO’s MCRT to enter into their community to provide health support services for approximately two days.

“We will provide follow up services to those communities, typically, two or three times depending on the severity of the crisis in question,” said Justin Courchene, program manager for MKO’s MCRT.

First Nations in Manitoba interested in accessing these services can email or call 1-844-927-LIFE (5433).

— Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun