New COVID-19 rapid testing site opening in Winnipeg to make testing more accessible to Indigenous people

A new rapid COVID-19 testing facility has opened in Winnipeg’s North End to help make it easier for urban Indigenous people, as well as those travelling to First Nations, to be tested for the illness.

Starting Tuesday, the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre on King Street will offer COVID-19 testing to people who are symptomatic and those who need a COVID-19 test prior to travelling to a northern community, according to Monday’s COVID-19 bulletin issued by the Manitoba government.

“This rapid testing site is there to reduce as many barriers as possible so that we can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the urban Indigenous community,” said Diane Redsky, executive director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre.

As part of its rapid testing site operations, Ma Mawi staff will offer wraparound care to help those who may need transportation, child care or food, among other things in order to get tested, she said.

“It could be a parent or family that is living with a whole bunch of people in the home. Anybody test positive? Everybody is in self isolation,” she said.

“If you’re living day-by-day, how do you think and prepare for two weeks in advance?”

Diane Redsky, executive director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, says her staff will provide wraparound support to community members awaiting test results or who are isolating. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

The wraparound support systems are in place so that, while people wait for their test results and if someone tests positive, their day-to-day obligations are taken care of. They will also receive mental health support during their isolation, said Redsky.

“We know that, as an Indigenous person, your relationship to the public health system can be scary at times. So we want to be able to create the environment where people will be welcomed and supported through that process,” she said.

Redsky added Indigenous people working for Shared Health will be delivering the COVID-19 services “as much as possible.”

Testing is not limited to Indigenous Manitobans and Ma Mawi will offer the wraparound services to anyone in the community who needs extra support.

Rapid testing centre ‘critical piece’ ahead of potential 3rd wave

The impact of COVID-19 on Manitoba First Nations has been a significant part of the second wave. The Canadian Armed Forces have been dispatched to northern and isolated communities six times so far to contain COVID-19 outbreaks.

Nearly two-thirds of the province’s known active COVID-19 cases are First Nations people, according to the most recent bulletin issued by Manitoba’s First Nations COVID-19 pandemic response coordination team on April 1.

Just over 58 per cent — 746 — of Manitoba’s known active COVID-19 cases are in the northern region, provincial data shows.

Manitoba public health officials have developed COVID-19 testing recommendations targeted specifically for people travelling to and from First Nations and “Indigenous and Northern Relations communities” to prevent the illness from spreading in those places.

Non-essential travel to First Nations is discouraged. But public health officials urge people to be tested for COVID-19 before travelling to those communities, and before someone returns to a community if the individual has been away for over 48 hours, says the Manitoba government’s testing website.

If a person received a lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 test result within three months, they do not need to be tested. People who have received the COVID-19 vaccine should still get tested, however, the site says.

A lesson from the past year is that getting tested, having results and conducting contact tracing as quickly as possible, while supporting safe and effective self-isolation, are all critical to slowing the spread of COVID-19, said Dr. Marcia Anderson, a lead of the pandemic response coordination team, during a news conference about the Ma Mawi rapid testing site on Thursday.

“This centre here is a critical piece, as we prepare for what might be a third wave, as case numbers start to rise and we start to see more of those [coronavirus] variants and variants of concern,” said Anderson. 

The King St. site will offer testing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. The centre would prefer if people called ahead to book appointments, but walk-ins are available to accommodate those without phone access, said Redsky.

Appointments can be made by calling 1-888-986-8152 toll-free.

Rapid tests and the typical PCR tests, which will be sent to Cadham Provincial Lab, will be available on site. Anyone who is symptomatic will receive both, because the rapid test results would allow for quicker contact tracing, said Anderson.

The PCR tests help ensure the rapid test results are correct, she added.

Asymptomatic individuals who receive a negative rapid test result must still adhere to public health guidelines, such as physical distancing, wearing masks in indoor public places and limiting contacts and practising proper hand hygiene, she said.