Thunder Bay

Pandemic planning means tough decisions, frank discussions

Creating pandemic plans for northern Indigenous communities involves making some difficult decisions, said one woman who helped two communities put plans together.

Tania Cameron has helped two northern Indigenous communities develop plans to prevent spread of COVID-19

A woman who has helped two northern Indigenous communities develop pandemic plans says the process involves many difficult decisions, such as vaccine rationing and where to place a morgue. (Tania Cameron)

Creating pandemic plans for northern Indigenous communities involves making some difficult decisions, said one woman who helped two communities put plans together.

"It's ideal to develop it well before a communicable disease emergency, so because we're in the midst of the pandemic, we had to move fast," said Tania Cameron, a member of Niisaachewan First Nation, and part of the Aboriginal Sports and Wellness Council.

"So we had a team of people from the leadership, from staff, and community members wanting to help either update or develop their new plan," Cameron said. "So there was a lot of meetings, community meetings, teleconferences, about everything from reporting and surveillance, to ... roles and responsibilities of the leadership, of provincial government, of the federal government, and how these three levels of government will work together in the midst of a pandemic."

Cameron said the process involves many difficult, and ethical decisions. For example, the plans must examine a community's infrastructure, and determine where to put an infirmary, equipment storage, and even a morgue.

"If there is potential where it hits the community hard, where would we have a mass grave, if that's what it came to?" Cameron said. "Who would check on the homeless?"

"How would we surveil if we don't have telecommunication?"

In addition, the plans must examine staffing, and determine who would work at an infirmary, or step in should a community's chief and council contract the virus.

"We have to plan from a worst-case-scenario perspective, so it was quite heavy work," Cameron said. "It was very, very emotional."

And there are ethical questions to be addressed by the plan, too, she said.

"What if there's a vaccine ... and they could only manufacture so much of the vaccine?" Cameron said. "And then, say, in Niisaachewan, there might be 200 people there, and we only have access to 50 vaccines."

"How would we decide who gets, and who doesn't?" she said. "So, we've had a little bit of a section in our pandemic plan on how that decision-making process will go, and, again, that was really an emotional discussion."

There has been one confirmed case of COVID-19 in a northern Indigenous community.

A man from Eabametoong First Nation, also known as Fort Hope, has tested positive for the virus; he's currently self-isolating in his home.

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