First Nations people with COVID-19 urged to quarantine off reserve in isolation facilities

First Nations people in Manitoba who need to self-isolate are being encouraged to leave their reserves to quarantine in alternative isolation facilities, including hotels.

Nearly half of the patients who are fighting COVID-19 in Manitoba intensive care units are First Nations people, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said in a Friday afternoon live update on their Facebook page.

Overcrowded homes on First Nations are causing infection rates to climb, said Dr. Marcia Anderson, a member of Manitoba’s First Nations pandemic response team.

She urged people to leave their reserves if they need to self-isolate and can’t do so properly in their community.

“If we do not see more people isolating out of their homes in these safer facilities, we will not see our case numbers go down. We will continue to see high number of hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths.”

16 die in a week

Isolation facilities are available to anyone who doesn’t have a private bedroom and bathroom, she said. They are free and travel is included, along with meals provided by hotels.

Manitoba Shared Health said there are isolation centres in Thompson, Flin Flon, The Pas and Snow Lake. As of Wednesday evening, 56 of 158 rooms were in use at these northern sites. Several residents from remote northern communities have been flown to Winnipeg isolation facilities, Shared Health said.

Language interpretation is available at the facilities, along with virtual spiritual and cultural care, a representative with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said. 

In the last week, 16 First Nation people died after getting COVID-19 and 810 new cases of the virus were reported among First Nations, the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba said.

Shamattawa resident Carrianne Miles lives in a home with nine other people. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

“Still a very, very concerning trend for First Nations and no evidence at all that things are starting to get any better,” Anderson said while pointing out overall numbers for Manitoba appear to be improving.

The five-day test positivity rate remains over 22 per cent among First Nations people and they continue to make up about 30 per cent of all hospital admissions, she said.

There have been 75 First Nations COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic started, the AMC update said.

“We’ve lost 75 people so far and I certainly don’t want that to become normalized. I don’t want us to accept that that’s OK, that this is just how it’s going to be,” said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.

Nursing home residents sent to Winnipeg

The situation has become so dire on Shamattawa First Nation that about 60 Canadian Armed Forces members were recently deployed to the fly-in community. The northern Manitoba community had at least 340 active cases as of Friday, said Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba’s acting deputy chief public health officer.

Six First Nations together alone have 827 active cases, he said.

“That’s a lot of cases in small communities of 1,000 to 2,000 people [each].”

People who test positive are being placed in the school’s gym on cots, while those who are negative and can’t isolate at home are staying in classrooms upstairs.

A sign on a home on the Shamattawa First Nation tells people not to enter. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

About 35 military members are also now in Red Sucker Lake First Nation in Manitoba, where more than two dozen people have fallen ill from COVID-19.

Residents living in a personal care home on Bunibonibee Cree Nation who recently tested positive were airlifted to Winnipeg, Anderson said. They are now in a city nursing home with their staff from the north. 

There are 104 First Nations people currently in hospital, according to the update given Friday.

Atwal said 54 of 63 Manitoba First Nations have now had cases of COVID-19.

Manitoba’s alternative isolation accommodation program offers shelter or hotel space to people who need somewhere to go to self-isolate due to COVID-19.

The spaces are available to anyone who has the virus, is suspected of having it or is a close contact of someone with COVID-19.