Point Douglas activist trying to get the word out on COVID-19 in one of Winnipeg’s hardest-hit areas

A Point Douglas community activist is trying to clearly spell out how to avoid COVID-19 in a new flyer he is delivering to one of Winnipeg’s hardest-hit neighbourhoods.

Sel Burrows is going door-to-door with a plainly worded pamphlet in Point Douglas, which has second highest COVID-19 caseload per capita in the city, according to data from the province’s COVID-19 dashboard.

He says his neighbourhood, with a disproportionate number of low-income households, is not getting effective communication when it comes to the pandemic and public health advice.

“If you don’t communicate with people, they can’t do the right thing,” he said. “We believe you have to be really basic, use really concrete language.”

Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin has recently pointed to the Winnipeg’s downtown and Point Douglas neighbourhoods as the city areas with the highest infection rates.

As of Tuesday, the rate of COVID-19 per 100,000 people was 2,281 in Point Douglas, second only to the downtown, at 2,531 cases per 100,000 people, according to the province’s data. 

That’s compared to 996 in Assiniboine South or 1,149 in St. Boniface.

Burrows says many people in his neighbourhood are not consuming mainstream media, or even able to access news on television, radio or online.

He hopes his flyers, which explain how COVID-19 is transmitted through “spit you can’t see,” will help people protect themselves and stop the spread.

“Remember, people spit a bit when they talk,” the flyer reads. “If you are wearing a mask you probably won’t get infected. If you are standing far enough away the spit won’t reach you.”

Tara Zajac, executive director of the North Point Douglas Women’s Centre, agrees improved methods of communication are needed.

“A lot of us can look on our cellphones or read the newspaper or watch the news, and a lot of people don’t have access to those things,” she said. “These people that are already vulnerable … are being left out of it.” 

Part of her team’s work, on top of handing out masks, food hampers and hygiene products, is updating community members about the changing public health orders and restrictions.

“We’ve heard constantly, [people] didn’t know until we told them. Which is sad,” she said, adding the Mama Bear Clan, which does regular street patrols, is also working on getting the word out.

Even with the information, Zajac acknowledges items like masks and hand sanitizer are not always within people’s budgets, and need to be made easily accessible.

“We’ve been very fortunate to get quite a few donations to hand out to the community, but there still needs to be more,” she said.

Earlier this week, Roussin acknowledged lower-income populations face a number of obstacles when it comes to COVID-19, saying crowded housing conditions are just one of the reasons for a rise in cases in that demographic.

On Tuesday, Roussin said “a number of outreach measures” are in place to help reduce those obstacles, including rapid testing and expanded isolation accommodations. He said public health also engages with community groups.

“We’re continuing to look and see what more can be done,” Roussin said.

Burrows wants the province to do more to increase pandemic communication efforts, and has even offered to help.

For now, he is reminding his neighbours to keep apart and wear a mask to stay healthy.