First Nation communities taking action to slow spread of COVID-19

·4 min read

COVID-19 case numbers are spiking in First Nations communities in all corners of the province, and one Indigenous leader says she must now enact strict new health measures to help slow the spread of the virus and keep her community safe.

On Thursday Deborah Smith, the Chief of the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation (BON), a community about 20 kilometres north of Selkirk in the Interlake region, announced in a Facebook live video that COVID-19 positive case numbers in the community jumped from a total of three confirmed cases on Dec. 29, to 21 confirmed cases by Jan. 6.

“BON is in an outbreak situation,” Smith said on Thursday.

She said a total of 30 people in the community of approximately 800 on-reserve residents were in isolation as of Thursday of this week, with some of those being isolated because of confirmed cases and others because they were awaiting final COVID-19 test results.

“Two BON community members were in hospital because of the virus as of Thursday,” Smith added.

With case counts rising quickly in BON, Smith said a number of new health measures will now be put in place, and they are asking all community members to avoid leaving their homes as much as possible.

Smith said the new regulations will include a temporary community-wide curfew from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. until at least Jan. 21, and all council members and band office staff will work from home until at least Jan. 18.

The community will also return to having contract tracing done by door monitors at all businesses in BON, which they had been doing earlier on in the pandemic, but had stopped recently.

Smith also urged residents to have only one person from their home enter essential businesses like grocery stores, and suggested that residents leave their homes as little as possible for non-essential reasons or travel.

In a bulletin released on Friday, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) said there were 1,388 new cases of COVID-19 reported among First Nations people in the province this week, with 676 of those positive cases being reported among on-reserve residents.

Rising COVID-19 case counts are also affecting northern and remote communities, as on Thursday the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), an organization that represents 26 communities, said 10 of the communities they represent are currently dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks and that some were considering putting lockdown measures in place.

“Our leaders are working tirelessly to contain the spread of COVID-19 and ensure essential services are available to community members,” MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in a Jan. 6 news release. “I urge MKO citizens to continue to do their part to stop the transmission of COVID-19 by limiting contacts, reducing non-essential travel, and by getting vaccinated.

“I especially encourage MKO citizens to join me in getting their COVID-19 booster when they are eligible to receive it.”

In the Pimicikamak Cree Nation (PCN), a community that sits about 530 kilometres north of Winnipeg and is home to approximately 8,500 on-reserve residents, a COVID-19 outbreak has affected community members, and members of leadership as well.

This week PCN Chief David Monias announced on his Facebook page that he has tested positive for COVID-19 and that he is currently isolating while dealing with symptoms such as a sore throat, headaches and a cough.

“I will be isolating at home and will ride it out like everyone else,” Monias said.

Monias said that there are currently more than 100 active cases of COVID-19 in PCN.

There has also been ongoing concern about how fast COVID-19 and the Omicron variant could spread in First Nations communities, because of the current living conditions in many of those communities.

During a press conference back in November Dr. Marcia Anderson, the public health lead for the First Nations pandemic response co-ordination team said that factors like “overcrowded housing and overcrowded schools with poor ventilation” were putting First Nations communities at risk for spreading the virus quickly, and she urged First Nations members to get vaccinated saying that was the best way to help to slow the spread.

“The vaccine is important for breaking up those chains of transmission in communities that create those large outbreaks that can lead to multiple people or even everyone in the home getting COVID,” Anderson said.

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

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

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