Manitoba

First Nations officials fear COVID-19 cases will rise as Manitoba's restrictions ease

Dr. Marcia Anderson, who sits on the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs pandemic response team, says while much of the province is "moving in the right direction" in COVID-19 numbers, the same cannot be said of First Nations people and communities.

COVID-19 test positivity rate for First Nations is 20%, more than double the provincial average

The Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Co-ordination Team reported 89 new cases of COVID-19 among Manitoba First Nations people Wednesday, which account for 58 per cent of all new cases in the province. (Submitted by Four Arrows Regional Health Authority)

Manitoba First Nations public health officials are concerned COVID-19 numbers could increase among Indigenous people and communities, as pandemic restrictions are expected to ease across most of the province in the coming days.

Dr. Marcia Anderson, who is part of the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team, says while much of the province is "moving in the right direction" in COVID-19 numbers, the same cannot be said for First Nations people and communities.

"It's concerning because as the public health restrictions are lifted, even lightly, numbers will go up, provincial test positivity rates will go up, and we are starting from a significantly worse off place than we were in the fall," she said.

All of Manitoba has been under strict COVID-19 pandemic restrictions since November. But on Tuesday, provincial officials said they are considering a range of options to relax rules around private gatherings and the reopening of stores for all regions except the hard-hit north.

But First Nations in Manitoba are in a precarious position, Anderson said — not only because of ongoing outbreaks in communities, but also because of barriers First Nations have faced for generations that have become more pronounced during the pandemic.

"When you have … baseline disproportionate access to things like housing, health care, income, food, you have less ability to buffer when the virus enters into your social network, or in your family network or your community," Anderson said during a Facebook Live conversation moderated by Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.

"We're seeing the prolonged effects of that — this virus spreading in our families and our communities, whereas in other parts of the province that don't have these same disadvantages, the numbers are getting better."

Anderson says she's expecting more cases will present in the next couple of months, and First Nations public health officials will be working diligently to contain them.

High test positivity rate among First Nations

On Wednesday, the First Nations pandemic response team announced 89 new cases of COVID-19 among Manitoba First Nations people, including 42 on reserve and 47 off reserve.

These infections make up 58 per cent of the 154 new cases announced in Manitoba Wednesday.

The Red Cross and the Canadian Armed Forces have helped set up tents like these in Little Grand Rapids to help communities where it's difficult for people with COVID-19 to isolate because of overcrowded housing. (Submitted by Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team)

In addition, Indigenous people make up almost 50 per cent of people in hospital with COVID-19, and a whopping 64 per cent of people in intensive care with the illness.

Meanwhile, Anderson says the test positivity rate among First Nations — 20 per cent — is more than double the provincial rate, which was 9.5 per cent Wednesday.

Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, who was a guest on the AMC's Facebook Live session Wednesday, said the pandemic has further highlighted inequities that First Nations people face 

"Everyone has to appreciate the odds you're facing from the get go," he said.

Although there's some light at the end of the tunnel, Dumas said, vaccines aren't "a magic Band-Aid."

So far, the province says it's allocated 5,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine to First Nations.

A member of Norway House Cree Nation receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Marcia Anderson warns herd immunity won't be achieved in the province for many months. (Submitted by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak)

"They are not going to be in numbers sufficient to provide anything close to herd immunity for several, several months," Anderson said.

"That's why those fundamentals are going to be critical for us to follow over the next few months."

With files from Cameron MacLean

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