'A great achievement': Peguis First Nation marks 25 days without new case of COVID-19

The First Nation is seeing no new or active cases of COVID-19, despite allowing off-reserve members to come home and visit over the holidays.

Leadership allowed some visitors to the community during "relaxed lockdown" over holidays

A resident becomes the first in Peguis First Nation to get the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Chief Glenn Hudson says more than 200 Elders in the community have received both doses of the vaccine. (Peguis First Nation/Facebook)

It's been 25 days since Peguis First Nation has seen a new case of COVID-19 in the community, even after allowing some visiting over the holiday season.

The Interlake community had what it called "relaxed lockdown" days, which allowed extended family and students, including those living off-reserve, to visit one household from Dec. 23 to 28, and over New Year's Eve.

As of Monday, the First Nation reported a total of 194 cases of COVID-19. Of that number, 192 have recovered and two are deaths — but there are no new cases of COVID-19 or active cases.

"It was a great achievement," said Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson. "There was a sense of elation for our team, that sense of accomplishment, but also a sense of people understanding the importance of the COVID protocol."

He says there are three members self-isolating for precautionary measures because they've travelled out of province. 

Hudson said at the start of November, it was seeing a high of 76 active cases, but the community managed to bring that number down to zero.

Proactive lockdown and curfew

Hudson said the success of getting the active case count down to zero is because of a strict lockdown declared by the First Nation, which started in October — weeks before Manitoba went into the red level restrictions.

As case counts went down, the chief said the community did a 3-1 cycle of lockdown: having three days of lockdown and one day of relaxed restrictions. Later on, it implemented a 3-2 cycle. 

In addition, Hudson said hiring an outside contractor to do contract-tracing and having increased testing slowed the spread. And giving specific instructions to members and implementing a curfew of 10 p.m to 6 a.m. helped, he said. 

Chief Glenn Hudson says Peguis First Nation is on a 25-day streak for recording no new cases of COVID-19 and currently has no active cases of the virus. (CBC)

"Anytime there was a potential case or a probable case that may have showed up, we were all over it. From that, we managed our way through in terms of the isolation required," said Hudson. 

On Jan. 8, the nation lifted its own lockdown measures and decided to follow the level red restrictions recommended by the province. But it also implemented a few additional measures, such as keeping the curfew, having checkpoints at the community's entrance and prohibiting outside visitors.

"People from the outside have to call to register to be able to come in and only for health or funeral reasons," Hudson said. 

Holiday visits

During the relaxed lockdown days, visitors had to register first and were screened with questions prior to entering the community. If eligible, they had to stick to one designated household during the visit. After they left, members of that household had to isolate for four days. 

In mid-December, Premier Brian Pallister condemned the plan, calling it a "massive mistake" and urged Hudson not to allow it to happen. Pallister also called on federal Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller to condemn the plan. 

But Hudson said the nation is equipped to handle visitors and can make its own decision. 

"We implemented a four-day isolation for those homes to make sure that there were no COVID cases in the community. So when you look at it from that standpoint, our protocols were more rigorous than what the province or the country has in place," he said.

Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Monday there are currently 538 cases of COVID-19 linked to in-person holiday gatherings in Manitoba, and these cases had 2,879 close contacts.

Hudson said since the successful visitation period, he's had a handful of First Nations reach out to him and ask how the plan was implemented. 

"We made that information available and made recommendations to them," Hudson said. 

Vaccinations begin 

As of Monday morning, the community started its COVID-19 vaccination program — marking a historic day for Peguis First Nation. It began with personal care home seniors and staff, as well as elders who are in their 70s. 

Hudson said next on the list are elders in their 60s and 50s. The First Nation received 250 doses of the Moderna vaccine and by Monday night, Hudson estimates that around 70 people have received the shot. 

Members of Peguis First Nation's pandemic response team administered the first dose of the Moderna vaccine on Monday. (Peguis First Nation/Facebook)

Being part of the community's leadership and COVID-19 response team, Hudson got vaccinated himself.

"My face felt a little flushed right after getting it, but right now I feel normal," he said. 

The chief said it's been a trying and exhausting time for the nation, which required everyone to put in their best effort in fighting the disease. 

"You have to be very empathetic to the people and the community in terms of the needs of their health and wellness. So I think we've managed to work our way through both those areas and you see the end result," he said.