Epidemiologist sent to Manitoba First Nation as COVID-19 cases climb

WINNIPEG — An epidemiologist is in Cross Lake First Nation to investigate what is causing the spike in COVID-19 cases in the community, identify those at risk, and determine how to stop the spread.

“We take care of Manitoba First Nations in Manitoba. This is public health,” said Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief provincial public health officer, at a news conference on Friday, Feb. 19.

“We have communities that need help and we have been partnering since the beginning of the pandemic. So not only has the province worked with regional health authorities, we’ve worked with the Manitoba First Nations Pandemic Response Coordination Team, we’ve worked with tribal councils, we’ve worked with the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch.”

Atwal added that they share resources, especially in a time of need, to help mitigate the issues for residents in these communities. 

“So if someone needs an epidemiologist, we have an epidemiologist that will be provided, that service will be provided,” he said. 

“It’s all about public health and making sure that we’re doing what we can for Manitoba.”

This news comes as the First Nation went from seeing between zero and two new cases a day at the start of the month of February, to 35 new cases on Feb. 17. As of Feb. 18, there were 204 active cases of COVID-19 in the community. 

“The COVID-19 virus is Community Spread in Cross Lake,” said a news release from the First Nation from Feb. 18.

“This means that it is no longer contained to families or gatherings and people are getting tested from all over the community and are testing positive. We have “Super Spreaders,” people that have identified many contacts.”

According to data released from Cross Lake, in the first week of February there were three events that brought together a number of people in the community. This includes a wake, a funeral, and a birthday party. 

The First Nation noted there were at least 54 COVID-19 infections in people who attended these events, noting it includes children, elders and people with chronic illnesses.

“These are the people we should be protecting. We cannot afford and continue to put them at risk,” the community said.

Cross Lake noted that it has continuously asked for the Government of Canada and the Province of Manitoba to intervene in its situation. It said starting on Friday, Feb. 19, there will be people coming into the community from the province, MKO, Indigenous Services Canada, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, as well as CAF rangers to assess the situation. 

The First Nation said public health teams are working hard to identify cases and contacts, arrange alternate isolation accommodation transport, and provide test results to the community.

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