First Nations leaders urge additional measures to stop spread of COVID-19 in northern Manitoba

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak leadership and the chief provincial public health officer are holding a news conference Wednesday morning to urge northern communities to start planning for COVID-19 to hit their communities.

No gatherings of more than 10 people, MKO medical advisor Dr. Barry Lavallee recommends

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 while everyone in Manitoba is being urged to practice social distancing, that could look different in northern First Nations communities where many people live in cramped houses. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The impact of the coronavirus on northern Manitoba First Nations will depend on how the government responds to any cases detected in those communities, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee said at a news conference Wednesday morning.

Settee, alongside chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin and Dr. Barry Lavallee, the medical advisor for MKO health entity Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin, said First Nations need the necessary resources from governments to approach COVID-19.

"The governments' response will be critical [in terms of] how many casualties" there will be, he said.

"We will not be marginalized, we will not be forgotten about during this crisis. We want to make sure that our people and the leadership of this First Nation, of these First Nations, will not be silent when it comes to the protection and safety of our people."'

MKO represents 26 First Nations in northern Manitoba, many of which are remote.

WATCH | Dr. Barry Lavallee explain what he wants northern communities to do:

Covid-19 instructions for Northern First Nations

3 years ago
Duration 0:57
The impact of the coronavirus on northern Manitoba First Nations will depend on how the government responds to any cases detected in those communities.

Settee said First Nations are at a greater risk and are more vulnerable than other segments of Canadian society because of social determinants of health.

He said living conditions in the north, particularly overcrowded homes, could help the virus spread quickly.

Chief provincial public health officer Roussin said as of Wednesday morning, there are 15 cases of COVID-19 identified in the province, and none of them are from First Nations in Manitoba.

No gatherings of 10 or more

Roussin said social distancing is of the utmost importance to reduce the virus's spread, so there shouldn't be any large gatherings of more than 50 people in the province right now.

Dr. Lavallee, a family doctor with expertise in First Nations health, went one step further and asked the community to stop all gatherings of 10 people or more.

He said health risks and living conditions make First Nations more vulnerable, which is why social distancing is even more important in northern and remote communities.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said as of Wednesday morning, no cases of COVID-19 have been detected on any Manitoba First Nations. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Dr. Lavallee said there are additional recommendations for the communities represented by MKO because many are isolated and have as much access to healthcare services.

He said all schools and daycares on northern First Nations should be closed immediately, and said greater protections for elders and personal care homes — like limiting or restricting visitors — are needed.

Lavallee said people on northern First Nations are being encouraged to practice social distancing, although that could mean something different in communities where many people are living under the same roof. In those cases, people should be looking at options like family isolation.

Grand Chief Settee said it's "very challenging for First Nations when you live in a home that has 10 people. That sanitation is very critical at this time."

Limiting travel in, out of communities

Medical advisor Lavallee said there are plans in the works if people need to be taken out of remote First Nations for care. He said MKO is also asking hunters to start hunting now to gather meat.

Lavallee said northern First Nations need to be mindful of who is coming in and out of communities, and only essential services should be allowed in.

Roussin said only essential visits to Winnipeg from remote communities should be happening right now.

Lavallee said MKO has developed strategies tailored to communities, and that leadership will be doubling up on messaging from provincial health officials, so people on First Nations should stay calm.

"We've been on this for five weeks now. We didn't wait," he said.

He said messaging from MKO about the virus will be available in Cree and Dene, and that MKO is looking at developing teams that will work with communities.

Concerns about testing sites

Lavallee expressed concerns that health centres and nursing sites are being considered as possible COVID-19 testing sites on First Nations. He said other spaces, like schools or other buildings not being used right now, should be considered to avoid spreading the virus within healthcare facilities.

Grand Chief Settee said MKO has been in touch with the Northern Store about COVID-19, and that they've been "on the ball" in terms of having enough inventory and ensuring the safe transport of those supplies to stores. 

He said officials with the company have assured MKO prices have been frozen, though he acknowledged prices of food in the north are already high.

The news conference comes one day after the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, which represents 62 First Nations in Manitoba, called for a state of emergency as the COVID-19 situation escalates in the province.

As of Wednesday morning, there have been 15 cases of the coronavirus detected in the province.

In Canada, hundreds of people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and as of Wednesday morning, eight people have died.