Manitoba Metis Federation partners with local firm to create COVID-19 testing site for Métis people

The Manitoba Metis Federation is partnering with a local private bioinformation services firm to open a COVID-19 testing site exclusively for Métis people, a news release says.

Symptomatic people to be tested curbside in their vehicles; asymptomatic people to be tested in clinic

Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand says the new site will get results faster, although a provincial spokesperson says the wait for COVID-19 test results is now under 24 hours. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The organization that represents Manitoba's Métis community is partnering with a local private bioinformation services firm to open a COVID-19 testing site exclusively for Métis people in Winnipeg and the surrounding area.

Meanwhile, St. Boniface-St. Vital MP Dan Vandal, who is minister for northern affairs, has written to Premier Brian Pallister, asking that the Manitoba Metis Federation be included in Manitoba's COVID-19 vaccination task force and in vaccine distribution.

The Manitoba Metis Federation opened a testing site Monday with the help of Winnipeg-based Intrinsic Analytics, which will be collecting and processing the test samples, the MMF said in news release. 

"The COVID-19 pandemic has been a long journey, and with the number of vaccines being earmarked for the Manitoba Métis community still up in the air, we are unsure when the light is coming at the end of the tunnel," MMF president David Chartrand said in the news release.

"By offering this alternative, our Métis citizens can now get their test results done faster and return to work and running errands to support their family quicker."

In an interview Tuesday, Chartrand said that part of the motivation for opening up the site was that the federation has been unable to get information from the province on how many Métis people in Manitoba have tested positive for COVID-19.

"We do know one thing for sure — they're not asking the question if they're Métis or not not. And so that that tells us the province knows there's … [no information] about our state of COVID," he said. 

"It doesn't know how many families have it. We know the families that do have it and we know some of them that have passed away. We don't know all of them."

Site 'redundant': province

All symptomatic people will be tested curbside in their vehicle at the MMF's testing site, while asymptomatic people will be tested indoors, the federation's news release says. It does not say where the testing site is.

Test results will be processed within 24 hours of the swab, it says.

People must book an appointment to get tested by calling 1-833-390-1041 toll-free, the release says.

A provincial spokesperson said the MMF is welcome to offer the service, but called the site "redundant," given that the current wait period for results from provincial sites is about 22 hours. 

The province is concerned about how the testing data from the MMF site will be connected to the public system to allow for contact tracing, the spokesperson said.

"It is important to follow up with positive cases so they are able to get the appropriate care and information on how to reduce the spread of the virus. This kind of followup is a key component of COVID-19 testing," the spokesperson said in an email. 

Chartrand said that Manitoba Metis Federation will definitely share information from its testing site about positive cases. 

MP pushes MMF vaccination role

In a letter to the premier, Vandal said that MMF's "full and active participation" in vaccine distribution plans is needed to ensure the needs of Manitoba Métis people are adequately met.

"While there have been no large outbreaks in any Métis villages in Manitoba to date, I am sure you know and can appreciate that Manitoba Métis are at higher risk of serious complications with COVID-19 and that an outbreak amongst vulnerable Métis citizens or elders would be devastating," Vandal wrote. 

Health Minister Heather Stefanson met with Frances Chartrand, the MMF's minister of health and wellness, on Tuesday.

"I thought it was a good meeting," Chartrand said. 

"I hope that this meeting is the start of a conversation that will lead to an actual plan towards vaccinating our Métis citizens in Manitoba."

Chartrand says the MMF wants to work with the province.

"We're going to find out how we can work on ensuring that the vaccine rollout goes to the Méis citizens, whether you live in Churchill, Camperville or Winnipeg," she said.

David Chartrand said that because there is a large Métis population in Manitoba, and many suffer from chronic illnesses, they deserve to be part of discussions about vaccine rollout. 

A provincial spokesperson said that from the start of the pandemic, the government has engaged regularly with Indigenous leadership as part of Manitoba's ongoing response to COVID-19.

"As this work to protect Manitobans continues, so will our engagement with indigenous groups, including the MMF," they said. 

Eleven more COVID-19 deaths and 111 new cases announced in Manitoba on Tuesday, bringing the total number of deaths in Manitoba to 783.

As of Monday, there were 3,108 known active cases in Manitoba, and nearly half of those cases — 1,469 — are in the northern health region. Public health officials say, however, that the number of known active cases is inflated due to a backlog in data entry.

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson and Erin Brohman