Peguis First Nation trains its own members to operate COVID-19 testing site

Peguis First Nation is setting up its own COVID-19 testing site run by community members. Nurses conduct and handle the tests, while community members will take on other tasks like filling out forms, screening people, transporting samples.

Community has been in lockdown as it deals with COVID outbreak

Health staff in Peguis First Nation began training to do COVID-19 testing in the community on Monday. (Kirk Mann)

Peguis First Nation is setting up its own COVID-19 testing site run by community members.

"Now we don't need to… wait for a testing site to come in to help us. Now we have the skill, the manpower, the training to be able to do that for our community members," said Denise Bear, the nurse in charge of the Peguis Health Centre.

Peguis, about 160 kilometres north of Winnipeg and the largest First Nation in Manitoba with more than 10,000 members, recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on Sept. 5, and has had a total of 134 cases, with 66 active cases and 68 recovered as of Wednesday.

Bear, who is from Peguis, has been a nurse since 1989 and has been the head nurse at the health centre since April 2017.

She said Dr. Ian Whetter and the University of Manitoba's Ongomiizwin Health Services program has been doing the training, that started Monday.

"He's trained our nurses and they're provided all the information on what we need to do to be able to run a site like that," said Bear.

"And also the questions to ask if someone needs a rapid test or just a regular COVID swab."

The nurses conduct and handle the nasal swab samples, and community members will take on other tasks like filling out forms, screening people, transporting samples, providing security and traffic control.

"[Ongomiizwin] walked all of the people that went for training through each of the different stations," said Bear.

In total, 16 people from the community have been trained to run the COVID-19 test site. They can also train others if needed.

Chief Glenn Hudson said he pushed to have the community runs its own testing site when the community first had positive cases.

"By training our own frontline nurses, health and safety workers to run tests in our facility, collecting these samples... we will gain obviously a valuable ground in fighting this pandemic," said Hudson. 

The initiative was a collaboration between the First Nation, the Interlake Regional Health Authority and the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch.

Peguis on 2-week lockdown

Starting at the beginning of November, the First Nation instituted a community-wide two week lockdown in three-day increments, which is expected to be done on Nov. 15. 

Under the policy, non-essential businesses are closed, a 24-hour curfew has been implemented with checkpoints throughout the community and people are required to stay home with no visiting allowed.

Every fourth day, a "relaxed lockdown" allows one person per household to travel to nearby communities for essential shopping, with a curfew from midnight to 6 a.m.

Hudson said that so far, most people have been complying with the lockdown and that there have been very few cars on the road.

Peguis First Nation Chief Glenn Hudson said he pushed to have his own people trained to do tests, when the community recorded its first cases in September. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"People are complying and they understand the importance because of the communal spreading," said Hudson.

Bear said she is optimistic that the lockdown will help to reduce COVID-19 cases within the community.

"I think in two weeks time we're going to see a huge difference in the amount of cases coming forward," she said.

"So I can hardly wait for that time to come."


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1