No known COVID-19 cases on Manitoba First Nations to date, newly released data shows

Sixteen of Manitoba's 289 COVID-19 cases occurred in First Nations people off-reserve, according to the Manitoba First Nations Pandemic Response Coordination Team.

Lack of on-reserve cases thanks to 'terrific leadership in those communities': chief public health officer

There are currently zero known cases of COVID-19 on Manitoba First Nations. The province has been asking people who test positive to share their ethnicity since May 1. (Paul Sancya/The Associated Press)

Just over five per cent of known COVID-19 cases in Manitoba have occurred in First Nations people living off-reserve, but there have been zero positives among those tested in First Nations.

"I'm thankful to know there are no identified cases of First Nations people in the Northern Health Region," reads a statement from Chief Garrison Settee of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.

"I want to encourage people to continue to limit their travel and be vigilant when it comes to observing public health measures that exist to help limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus."

The data on COVID-19 cases was released Friday by the Manitoba First Nations Pandemic Response Coordination Team. 

Provincial health officials began asking people who test positive to COVID-19 to voluntarily divulge their ethnicity starting May 1, in order to track whether the illness is hitting some groups harder than others. 

The First Nations group entered an agreement with the province enabling the sharing of that data.

The team that released the data Friday — collected by provincial health officials between March 27 and May 12 — is made up of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba.

The team reported that 16 of Manitoba's 289 COVID-19 cases to date have been First Nations people living outside of their communities.

Manitoba First Nations people make up about 10.5 per cent of Manitoba's population, according to a 2016 Statistics Canada report.

To date, 1,488 tests have been performed on First Nations people living on-reserve.

A bald man in a navy jacket with vertical black and grey stripes folds his hands as he speaks at a news conference. He's pictured behind microphones and against a quilted backdrop that's yellow, white, red and black.
Dr. Barry Lavallee, the medical advisor for MKO health entity Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin, said the ethnicity data will better track the impact of the virus on Indigenous people. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

"Manitoba is taking a lead in this country in terms of starting to put racial identifiers on health data," said Dr. Barry Lavallee, medical advisor for MKO.

"This is a thing that we want and wanted for 25 years now," he said. "We want to be able to do comparisons to ensure that we're getting equitable access to health-care."

Seven deaths connected with COVID-19 have been reported in Manitoba, but none involved First Nations people, the team said.

There are currently no known positive cases in First Nation communities, said Manitoba Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin.

He said he isn't really surprised by the lack of cases on-reserve.

"Really early on, we started working with First Nation partners and [they] just showed terrific leadership in those communities to be on top of this," he said.

There have been heightened concerns about what could happen with outbreaks on First Nations, especially in remote and northern regions, since the first cases popped up in the province.

As a precaution, many communities implemented strict safety measures in their communities before Manitoba public officials deemed it was necessary to do so.

A provincial public health order prohibiting non-essential travel above the 53rd parallel was introduced in mid-April and remains in place.

Of the 16 known cases involving First Nations people, 14 involve people within the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority catchment area. The other two are in the Southern and Interlake-Eastern health regions, according to the pandemic response team.

Two of the cases remain active, though neither person is in hospital. The other 14 have recovered. 

Thirteen of the cases are female and three male, according to pandemic response team, and range in age from one year old to 69. Most fall in the 20 to 29 age bracket.

Just over a quarter of cases (27 per cent) were acquired through travel, with the remaining 73 per cent being linked to close contacts.

Across Canada, more than 450 Indigenous people have tested positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

As of Friday afternoon, no new COVID-19 cases have been reported in Manitoba in the past four days. There hasn't been a new case in the Winnipeg region since May 10.

However, heading into the May long weekend, Lavallee said now is not the time for any First Nations people to let their guard down.

"Our numbers have been good," he said.

"It doesn't mean … that we should go outside and assume that there's no virus around. Because we don't have enough information yet."


Bryce Hoye


Bryce Hoye is a multi-platform journalist covering news, science, justice, health, 2SLGBTQ issues and other community stories. He has a background in wildlife biology and occasionally works for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He is also Prairie rep for outCBC. He has won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for a 2017 feature on the history of the fur trade, and a 2023 Prairie region award for an audio documentary about a Chinese-Canadian father passing down his love for hockey to the next generation of Asian Canadians.