Hutterite colonies step up precautions as Manitoba COVID-19 cases increase

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WINNIPEG – With the increase in COVID-19 cases in the province, residents of Hutterite communities across Manitoba are stepping up public health measures, but as increased testing identifies more positive cases, they fear the stigma does not continue. Thirty-one of 49 new cases announced Monday and 47 of 72 cases announced Sunday by Manitoba public health were in community living communities. They include but are not limited to Hutterite settlements.

Kenny Wollmann, a member of the Hutterian Safety Council’s COVID-19 working group, said communities have been taking precautions since the start of the pandemic.

“These have now intensified,” he told CTV News on Monday. “I always say that what we did in March, April and May was good practice for what we urgently need to do now.”

Photos provided to CTV News show people hulling corn outside with masks on. The same goes for those who prepare food in common kitchens.

Wollmann said this was all part of the precautions put in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which has dramatically changed the way Hutterites live.

“Because of COVID-19, a lot of our communal kitchens, where we have three meals a day, have been closed and now meals have to be prepared and distributed there or they have to be prepared at home,” Wollmann said. .

Dr Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer, said since the start of the pandemic, there have been 236 cases in community communities. Of these cases, 148 are active, which represents just over a third of all active cases.

Many of the recent cases were identified during a province-initiated screening campaign – tests that took place through the usual process and directly in the community living communities.

“The weekend results were actually mobile tests where we went to communities to do testing,” Roussin said. “So we did a lot of testing, then a lot of cases were identified.”

The province was criticized earlier in the pandemic for identifying confirmed cases in people from Hutterite settlements.

There have been reports that Hutterites have faced stigma in surrounding communities, which Wollmann says is once again a concern as cases rise.

“These people are doing everything right and everything is according to the book, but just because they are part of a visible minority, they are unfair,” he said.

Wollmann said that like all other segments of society, people’s response to the pandemic in Hutterite communities has varied, but he said many took the virus seriously from day one.

“And if they thought that wearing two masks would help people, they would wear two masks,” Wollmann said. “On the other end of the spectrum, we have people you might call COVID deniers or people who think it’s a scam or a ploy concocted by someone somewhere to do bad things . ”

Hutterite leaders continually work to bring people together to do the right thing, he added, and encouraged compassion in times of crisis.

“Hutterites are Canadian citizens and they should also be treated with respect and dignity,” said Wollmann.

Given the success of the mobile testing, Roussin said he expects plans to be made to do more in the community living communities.

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