COVID-19 cases climbing among Manitoba First Nations

WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s First Nation communities continue to face more severe outcomes from COVID-19, recent data from the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team (PRCT) shows.

Since last Friday, Nov. 6, the PRCT counted 312 new cases of COVID-19 among First Nation members. That brings the total number of cases among First Nation peoples to 1,628. that is 16 per cent of the province’s total number of cases.

Currently, there are 53 First Nation members in hospital with 13 of those cases in the intensive care unit. Based on the latest data from the Manitoba government, First Nation members make up 23 per cent and 38 per cent of all hospitalizations and ICU patients, respectively.

Thirteen deaths were also recorded by the PRCT in the last seven days with the median age of death recorded at 60-years-old.

“The median age of First Nation people who die of COVID-19 is almost a full decade younger than that for other Manitobans,” Dr. Marcia Anderson said during a Facebook live update with the Assembly of Manitoba First Nations on Friday.

“Our need to act aggressively and urgently is even beyond that for the rest of the population.”

Twenty six First Nation communities in Manitoba currently have active COVID-19 cases, almost half of all First Nations in Manitoba.

This week, $61.4 million in funding was sent by the federal government to help First Nation communities battle the virus.

“There will be resources going to communities, there will be additional resources to address the overburden of our health system,” said Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, adding that some of the funds will be used to set up alternative isolation accommodations.

“It’s quite a significant contribution from our First Nation leadership to try and provide additional care and coverage,” he said.

Case rates among Indigenous Manitobans are also climbing in off-reserve urban and rural areas, particularly in Winnipeg. In the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, 582 COVID-19 cases among First Nation members have been documented, the most among all Manitoba health regions.

“Many of our citizens are in the cities out of necessity, seeking to have housing, seeking to have opportunity,” said Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels. “But they come up against challenges even there.”

Daniels notes that inadequate housing, a lack of access to health care and underlying health conditions are likely leading to the high rate of transmission and hospitalizations among Indigenous Manitobans in the Winnipeg region.

It’s not all grim news.

Peguis First Nation, which had one of the highest rates of COVID-19 among any First Nation community up until a few weeks ago, has managed to bring down its caseload.

Council adopted a strict 14-day lockdown on Nov. 1 that included a curfew, restricted access at checkpoints into the community, and closures of all non-essential businesses. 

Every third day the community entered a “relaxed lockdown” to allow one member of a household head out and restock on supplies. 

The measure has proven successful in cutting down the number of active cases from 78 at the start of the lockdown to 21 today, according to figures provided by Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson.

The number of people in isolation due COVID-19 has also dropped, from over 200 at the start of the lockdown to just over 100 currently in isolation. 

While lockdown is likely to be extended – it is set to end on Sunday – Hudson says the model may be useful elsewhere. 

“I think it can be used more broadly across Manitoba and in the City of Winnipeg,” said Chief Hudson. “Obviously it will take buy-in though from the community at-large, the people of Manitoba and the people of the City of Winnipeg.” 

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