Some First Nations seeing uptick in COVID-19 cases despite careful beginning

Two Alberta doctors say COVID-19 is getting worse in their communities, despite avoiding huge numbers in the beginning of the pandemic. 

Pandemic fatigue playing a role in driving cases upward: doctors

Dr. James Makokis is a family physician in Kehewin First Nation. (Terry Reith/CBC)

Two Alberta doctors say COVID-19 is getting worse in their communities, despite avoiding huge numbers at the beginning of the pandemic. 

Dr. James Makokis, a family physician in Kehewin First Nation, said some added measures were taken earlier this year for the safety of their residents, like security checkpoints on the nation's borders. But now, he said Kehewin is still seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases.

"We didn't have any cases during the first wave," Makokis said in an interview on Edmonton AM"We've only now started to experience the first wave of cases in our area."

Dr. Lana Potts, a family physician at the Siksika First Nation Health and Wellness Centre, echoed Makokis on this. She said Siksika First Nation leaders were aware their health system could very easily be overwhelmed, but some early precautions helped to keep the virus at bay. 

Pandemic fatigue is playing into the rise in cases, Makokis said. Potts said the realities of on-reserve life can make it difficult at times to keep the virus under control, especially with new restrictions on gatherings. 

"Due to overcrowding, due to the lack of service buildings and other things, often people have to gather, so I think it could definitely pose a challenge," she said. 

One thing to remember is to try not to get lost in the numbers, Potts said, and that the loss of any life from this pandemic matters.

"Especially the loss of our elders, which are our knowledge keepers and our medicine people. It's very hard," Potts said. 

"I think we need to look at it from a life perspective and not so much from a statistical perspective, but really recognizing the challenges in rural First Nations."

Potts also said she worries the new restrictions are a little too late.

"I think we need to be a bit more stringent for a short period of time to see bigger results. That's my concern of leaving casinos open and bars open as there can be open gathering there," Potts said. 

Makokis said he has already heard his community is having difficulty with the onset of the virus. 

"People are being challenged in their personal lives, their mental health is taking a toll," Makokis said.


Emily Pasiuk


Emily Pasiuk is a reporter for CBC Edmonton who also covers news for CBC Saskatchewan. She has filmed two documentaries. Emily reported in Saskatchewan for three years before moving to Edmonton in 2020. Tips? Ideas? Reach her at emily.pasiuk@cbc.ca.