First Nations community members urged to avoid gatherings, travel due to Omicron

·3 min read

A Manitoba doctor and expert on Indigenous health care is now urging First Nations community members to avoid travel and gatherings as much as possible, even though she knows that some may be getting tired of following health guidelines.

“Omicron is a completely new game, so now is not the time for that fatigue or that frustration to be what guides your decision making,” Dr. Marcia Anderson, the public health lead for the First Nations pandemic response coordination team said during a recent Facebook live event.

“It is not the time to say ‘oh forget this, I have done everything right up until now so I am going to go ahead with all my plans,’ because we will not be able to manage the consequences of that.”

On Tuesday, the province reported a total of 825 new COVID-19 cases and five more deaths due to the virus, and a high percentage of Manitobans now testing positive for the virus are expected to have contracted the highly-transmissible Omicron variant which continues its rapid spread across the globe.

And with Christmas now come and gone and the New Year approaching, Anderson said she knows that this is a time of year when family and friends often gather in communities, and also a time when many First Nations people travel to and from their home communities.

The amount of travel at this time of year is of great concern to Anderson because she worries it could further fuel the spread of COVID-19 if the virus and the Omicron variant are brought to small communities from larger centres like Winnipeg.

She added that even though there currently are not strict travel restrictions in place for those travelling within Manitoba, that does not mean that people should assume travelling is safe.

“Despite what the health orders are right now I would encourage people to be very, very cautious as there is wide-spread transmission of Omicron in Winnipeg right now,” Anderson said.

“And even if you have a negative test the day you leave Winnipeg, you could still be carrying it.”

While COVID-19 continues to affect the health and wellness of people in First Nations communities, Anderson said she knows it is also taking a large toll on people’s mental health, and will take a larger toll if more lockdowns and restrictions are put in place.

She said it can be difficult to balance the need for lockdowns with the concerns over people’s mental health, but added if people don’t take enough precautions in the coming days and weeks the province’s health care system will soon be “overwhelmed.”

“Our main goal now is to try and prevent an overwhelming strain on the health care system which is already greatly strained at the moment, so those are really impossible choices to make,” Anderson said.

She also said she will continue to urge people to get vaccinated and get COVID-19 booster shots, because that is the best way to contain the spread of the virus, and avoid seeing more serious illness and death in communities.

“Studies are showing the vaccines are 30% effective at preventing transmission, and 70% effective at preventing severe illness.

“And a third dose now greatly increases that antibody response and maintains that high level of effectiveness.”

Anderson said she has seen how COVID-19 has ravaged some First Nations communities with low vaccination uptakes, and that is why she is urging people to get vaccinated and boosted.

“We see the results and the benefits in the communities where coverage is high, and we see what is going on in communities where coverage is low,” she said.

“We have seen how many people end up going to hospital, and how many more deaths there are.”

— 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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