More than half of Manitoba First Nations have reported COVID-19 cases
7 of the 18 COVID-19-related deaths among First Nations people in Manitoba so far were reported in past week
The number of COVID-19 cases continues to surge among First Nations people in Manitoba, with more than half of the 63 First Nations in the province now reporting cases since the pandemic began in March.
Seventy-five new cases of COVID-19 were reported among First Nations people in Manitoba on Friday — roughly 17 per cent of the 437 total new cases announced in the province.
That brings the total number of active cases involving First Nations people in the province to 1,123, according to the latest bulletin from the Manitoba First Nations Pandemic Response Coordination Team. That number includes people living on reserve (508 active cases) and off (615).
Thirty-five First Nations in Manitoba have now reported cases since the start of the pandemic.
There's also growing concern about the number of COVID-19-related deaths among First Nations people.
Eighteen deaths have been reported among First Nations people in Manitoba since the start of the pandemic, with seven in the past week alone, said Dr. Marcia Anderson.
Anderson is part of First Nations pandemic response team, established by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs to gather data among First Nations people with COVID-19.
The first death of a First Nations person in Manitoba was reported on Oct. 16.
The five-day test-positivity rate among First Nations people in Manitoba is now sitting at 13 per cent, compared to 11.6 per cent for Manitoba as a whole.
"That's incredibly concerning when we think about what we might experience in the weeks and months to come," Anderson said in a Facebook Live meeting with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs on Friday.
The high number of COVID-19 cases and deaths is a huge concern, she said, "which is why we're moving beyond gentle encouragement on how to act with much stronger messaging."
All of Manitoba — including First Nations communities — is under new pandemic restrictions this week, which require all non-essential businesses to close. Gatherings are limited to a maximum of five people, although Manitoba's chief public health officer has strongly encouraged all Manitobans to avoid socializing with anyone outside their household.
Anderson said contributing factors to the rapid spread of COVID-19 both on and off reserves include large gatherings like funerals, but she also blames overcrowded and inadequate housing.
"Urban First Nations people also have significant challenges with overcrowding and inadequate housing," Anderson said.
"First Nations People make up a disproportionate population or percentage of people who are houseless or inadequately housed."
'Please take this seriously'
Edna Nabess echoed Anderson's concerns about gatherings. The 63-year-old from Mathias Colomb Cree Nation tested positive for COVID-19 last month.
"Please be diligent about where you go because you gotta think about your children and the elders," said Nabess, who fought back tears in a video posted on Facebook last month.
She says she contracted the illness after she officiated a wedding in another First Nation community.
She suffered terrible symptoms, including fatigue, a dry cough, headaches and a loss of smell and taste.
She has since recovered, but she worries about the community spread of COVID-19 cases among First Nations people in Manitoba.
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"It's very important that people don't have big large gatherings, because that is how I got COVID-19 by being at a larger gathering," she said in the video.
"Please take this seriously — this is serious."
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is urging people in First Nations to stay home and avoid non-essential travel to Winnipeg, which has become one of the country's worst COVID-19 hot spots.