Six Nations stays on high alert as new COVID-19 death reported

·3 min read

COVID-19 restrictions have eased in Haldimand, Norfolk and Brant counties, but Six Nations of the Grand River remains on high alert thanks to a persistent spike in cases that has claimed two band members this month.

The reserve’s third COVID-related death was announced on Tuesday. In a statement, elected councillors and public health officials offered “heartfelt condolences to those families and friends affected by this recent passing.”

Six Nations Health Services does not release the age or gender of COVID-19 fatalities.

As of Wednesday, there were 42 active cases on Six Nations.

The total case count — now at 243 — has increased sharply in recent weeks, though there has been a relative slowdown over the past seven days, with 33 new cases reported.

The per capita rate of the disease on Six Nations remains among the highest in the province at 358 cases per 100,000 residents, as compared to 37 per 100,000 in Hamilton, 30 in Haldimand-Norfolk and 22 in Brantford.

Director of public health Lori Davis Hill has not been available to answer questions about the recent surge.

A statement from public health says officials will reassess the local COVID-19 situation weekly and make any appropriate changes to the alert level. In the meantime, elected council urged band members to stay at home to break the chain of COVID-19 transmission, and to resist falling victim to “COVID fatigue.”

Like many communities in Ontario, Six Nations is waiting for more doses of the vaccine to be delivered. To date, residents of Iroquois Lodge and the Jay Silverheels Complex, along with some paramedics and front-line health-care workers, have received the Moderna vaccine.

Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, which borders Six Nations, had no active COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday.

MCFN has had 15 cases since the pandemic began, with all patients now recovered.

“We have to credit the members for their diligence” in following public health guidelines set out by the reserve’s COVID-19 working group, said chief operating officer Kailey Thomson.

MCFN remains in lockdown until March 1 due to the threat posed by active cases in neighbouring communities.

That means administration buildings remain closed to visitors while only essential operational services — including health clinics — will be provided to the community.

Chief R. Stacey Laforme said the reserve’s COVID-19 working group has a vaccine distribution plan in place.

“We are hopeful that at the end of March or April we can begin vaccination in the community for those who wish to be vaccinated,” Laforme said.

“Members of the COVID-19 working group are also sitting on the Haldimand-Norfolk Vaccine Task Force, and will be observing dry runs of how their vaccine clinic will work.”

While Indigenous communities are a priority group for the vaccine rollout, Thomson noted that MCFN does not have its own health unit and there is no long-term-care home on the reserve, which puts it behind Six Nations in the queue.

“We are working with different levels of government to secure vaccine for the community,” Thomson said, adding the estimated timeline could change as those talks proceed.

“The how and the when, we’re currently working out those details.”

MCFN has roughly 2,570 band members, nearly two-thirds of whom live off the reserve.

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator