Nearly 700 new cases of COVID-19 reported among First Nations people in Manitoba in past week

Manitoba First Nations continue to face a disproportionate impact from COVID-19, as officials say 691 cases were reported among First Nations people in the past week.

First Nations people make up 62 per cent of cases that are presumed active in Manitoba, said Leona Star of the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Co-ordination Team on Friday. Presumed active cases are active cases where officials don’t believe the individual has recovered already.

The five-day test positivity rate among First Nations people in Manitoba was double the provincial rate reported on Friday, said Dr. Marcia Anderson, another member of the response team, at 19 per cent for the First Nations population compared to 9.3 per cent provincewide.

“We do have communities where there aren’t active cases, but we also have communities that are really struggling with COVID right now,” Anderson said.

There were 11 COVID-19 deaths among First Nations people in Manitoba in the past week, said Star, who also works with the pandemic response team, during a Facebook Live update on Friday.

There are 65 First Nations people in hospital for COVID-19, making up 49 per cent of all COVID-19 hospitalizations in the province.

“We’ve talked in the past about how we’ve been positioned to experience this pandemic, within the context of the long-standing inequities in housing [and] also in health care — lots of different factors that are creating these higher case numbers and impacts among First Nations people,” Anderson said Friday.

She added social gatherings, including funerals, have also been linked to outbreaks of cases, and urged people to follow public health advice.

Lack of infrastructure

Alex McDougall, executive director of the Four Arrows Regional Health Authority, said the Island Lakes area his organization serves doesn’t have the infrastructure it needs to serve its population during the pandemic.

The region is about 600 kilometres north of Winnipeg and home to about 15,000 people, including Garden Hill, Wasagamack, St. Theresa Point and Red Sucker Lake First Nations. As of Thursday, the area had about 300 active cases of COVID-19, McDougall said.

“Comparing it to any comparable community of that size and looking at their infrastructure, I can almost guarantee you that you will see a highway into that community. You will see a hospital in that community,” he said.

“And yet, a First Nation population of 15,000 — at this time and era — still don’t have the access to those critical infrastructure that every Manitoban and every Canadian enjoys and has relative access to.”

In addition to military support that has been deployed to some First Nations, the pandemic response co-ordination team  has rapid response teams deployed in five communities in the province, Anderson said. That’s stretched resources so that sending out more staff would be a challenge

“We would be very, very hard pressed,” Anderson said. “It would be very, very hard for us to send a team to a different community if that kind of situation arose again.”

63 communities have 1st vaccine shipments

Vaccine distribution continues among First Nations in the province, Anderson said. As of Friday, more than 95 per cent of communities — 63 in total — had received their first shipments of the Moderna vaccine.

However, numbers aren’t yet available for how many people in those areas have been immunized, she said, due to the time it takes to input data — especially in communities that can’t access online data tracking systems that rely on internet connection.

Anderson said the current plan is to stick as close as possible to the recommended 28-day window between first and second doses of the vaccine, but distribution delays could widen that window for some.

“Our plan has to be flexible and adapt to the shipping of doses first to Canada, and then on to Manitoba, and then out to our communities,” she said.

Work is underway to plan vaccine rollout to other groups, Anderson said, with priorities including First Nations people living off-reserve and First Nations people living in various types of congregate settings such as shelters or correctional institutions.