How two Manitoba First Nations are controlling COVID-19 outbreaks in their communities

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Onekanew Chief Christian Sinclair of the Cree Nation of Opaskwayak, seen here in Winnipeg on October 3, 2019, said the new coronavirus has infected about 200 people in his community.

JOHN WOODS / Globe and Mail

The home began at the funeral of a young girl who died of cancer. About 200 people from the community of Pimicikamak were present, including someone unknowingly infected with COVID-19. Days later, leaders of the Pimicikamak Cree Nation were told of this positive case along with a family of four who also attended the funeral and all contracted the virus. Leaders immediately sounded the alarm, Chief David Monias said.

“Absolutely people are scared and people are upset,” Chief Monias said, recalling when he had to announce the first cases to the community of about 8,600 members on October 24th. “They said how can you let this person in or how did this person go?”

Pimicikamak is one of many First Nations in Manitoba affected by recent outbreaks as COVID-19 infections nearly tripled across the province in November and deaths reached a record high.

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Despite making up about 10% of Manitoba’s population, First Nations people account for 25% of all new cases and 42% of those in intensive care units, according to data from the response coordination team. Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 pandemic.

The epidemic can be devastating for people living in overcrowded homes with underlying health problems. National leaders have acted quickly to impose lockdowns and secure testing and isolation spaces – offering lessons to other communities struggling with epidemics.

Chief Monias said Pimicikamak’s approach was to stop the spread of the coronavirus by limiting people to their homes, shutting down public places except essential services and sending people who test positive and those who test positive to Winnipeg. were in contact with them to isolate them. .

“That was the main message, to stop the spread. And the only way to stop the spread is to actually stop the mobility of people in our community, ”said Chief Monias.

A rapid response team made up primarily of First Nations doctors, nurses and other health professionals was deployed to perform tests and find contacts. Chief Monias said the community’s own pandemic team is made up of around 23 people, including emergency response workers, doctors, nurses, elected leaders, social workers and d ‘other people who make sure supports are in place so people can isolate themselves and themselves safely.

Manitoba First Nations people, pictured here in this recent image, worried about the spread of COVID-19 have received an injunction ordering the group to remove a blockade at the Keeyask Generating construction site in Split Lake, Manitoba.

Nathan Neckoway / The Canadian Press

On October 29, the province issued a public health order supporting community measures to close schools, businesses and restrict gatherings outside of households as the remote community went on critical red alert on the system. province’s pandemic response.

Chief Monias says anyone who tested positive with his contacts has been sent to isolation in Winnipeg hotels, “just in case.” More than 200 people identified as contacts have been sent to isolation at a Winnipeg hotel with Red Cross coverage and 70 isolated confirmed cases to a separate hotel provided by the federal government.

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“We haven’t checked the difference between close contact and contact, for us if you are a contact you are a contact and you have to be isolated. It’s just to make sure you don’t spill it, ”he said.

Checkpoints have been set up in five different areas of the community to monitor traffic and a shopping schedule in place for residents.

The personal care home in the community was reserved for staff, who were themselves instructed to limit contact outside the home. Signs were also installed outside the homes of the elders. “An elder lives here, is vulnerable, please do not enter,” they read.

Chief Monias says it took five weeks to resolve the epidemic’s 70 COVID-19 cases. There is no more community transmission, but they are now trying to contain other cases that have arisen since, including in dialysis patients who have remained in Thompson while receiving treatment.

Pimicikamak is not the only First Nation to successfully fend off an epidemic.

About a week after the funeral in Pimicikamak, people attending a funeral in the Cree Nation of Opaskwayak were exposed to the virus, leading to community transmission.

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The spread within the community has reached all 28 residents and 13 staff at the Rod McGillivary Memorial Nursing Home, and one resident has died as a result.

Onekanew (Chief) Christian Sinclair of Opaskwayak says they had to act quickly to contain the spread of the virus, which has infected nearly 200 people so far.

Onekanew Sinclair said he requested military support from the federal government following the death of the nursing home resident. A 12-person team from CFB Edmonton and Shilo remained in the field at the residence for about 10 days, supporting front-line staff, some of whom slept there and worked around the clock, Onekanew Sinclair said.

He said one resident was sent to an intensive care unit in Winnipeg and the others were isolated and treated in the nursing home.

“We are proud and very happy, relieved to report that they have all made a full recovery and can once again move around the care home instead of being isolated in their room,” said Onekanew Sinclair .

The community has over 3,000 people living on reserves and is a service hub for surrounding communities in the region, meaning checkpoints have been established at major access points to monitor inbound and outbound traffic. . They remain locked out, schools are closed, and students learn remotely at home.

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Opaskwayak has converted its 60-room hotel and another 45-bed facility into isolation units, but Onekanew Sinclair says there are cases where entire families have been infected and choose to stay at home.

“We have to do what we can with our available resources,” Onekanew Sinclair said. “And when the time is right, we will ask the federal government, as a treaty partner, for assistance as needed, as needed.

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