Island Lake First Nations get rapid COVID-19 tests
More than 1,000 tests available for essential travellers to the northeastern Manitoba First Nations
The four Island Lake First Nations have added rapid COVID-19 tests to their arsenal in the fight against the illness.
Starting Monday, the First Nations of Garden Hill, Red Sucker Lake, Wasagamack and St. Theresa Point in northeastern Manitoba will have more than 1,000 rapid COVID-19 tests available for essential travellers coming into the communities, the Four Arrows Regional Health Authority announced.
"It's a big step forward. It's very beneficial for the community and the people," said Dino Flett, chief of Garden Hill First Nation, about 475 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
"We know how this virus plays. It's very sneaky. It can get into our communities, and we're just trying to protect people — our elders, our children and the vulnerable people."
The rapid tests were made available through a partnership with Indigenous Canadian Medical Dispensaries, an Indigenous-owned company that works to improve health services for Indigenous people in Canada.
The tests are being done in Winnipeg, and people labelled as essential travellers or workers to the First Nations must test negative before gaining access to a plane, said Chris Henry of ICMD.
Two digital analyzers are being installed to speed up the turnaround time for test results. The First Nations have trained their own members to use the technology, Chief Flett added.
It takes about 20 minutes from the moment the swab is done to the patient receiving an email — or letter in hand —with their results, said Henry. No one has tested positive since the program started over the weekend.
"Indigenous people know the health-care system isn't able to respond as quickly as needed," Four Arrows chairman Elvin Flett said in a news release.
"It is very important that we increase our own capacity to fight COVID wherever possible to improve the health of our people."
Many remote First Nations in Manitoba have struggled to contain COVID-19 outbreaks, and a ban on non-essential travel into northern Manitoba remains in effect.
As of Monday, 79 First Nations people in Manitoba have died from COVID-19, and there are 1,280 known active cases on First Nations reserves, according to the latest briefing issued by the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team.
There are roughly 30 known active COVID-19 cases in Garden Hill First Nation, but about 70 band members overall have the illness, said Flett, adding that the rest are self-isolating in Winnipeg.
Last week, the Canadian military sent 35 members to Red Sucker Lake, where more than two dozen people have tested positive.
With files from Meaghan Ketcheson