Manitoba First Nations are ramping up their safety protocols and working with all levels of government to help mitigate the risk of community COVID-19 spread, after three presumed cases of COVID-19 were identified in two neighbouring Interlake communities this week.
Peguis First Nation leadership announced Friday evening two of its members tested positive for COVID-19 after receiving rapid testing. Earlier in the day, Fisher River Cree Nation reported one of its members also tested positive.
The tests are awaiting official confirmation at the province’s Cadham lab.
The presumptive cases are the first identified in First Nations communities in Manitoba.
“I think people … have felt some disappointment,” said Peguis First Nation Chief Glenn Hudson. “There’s a heightened awareness, obviously, given that we have two presumed probable cases in the community.”
He says the First Nation’s COVID-19 response team has worked hard for the last six months to try to protect the community, about 160 kilometres north of Winnipeg, from the novel coronavirus.
“To me it was kind of deflating, I guess, as far as trying to keep our community safe.”
The First Nation is tight-knit, making physical distancing a challenge, Hudson says. There’s also only one ventilator on site — a concern if people develop serious symptoms.
“We don’t really have a place to isolate.… We have a lot of overcrowding in our homes,” he said.
“We have limited resources if these people become sick as a result of [COVID-19].”
The two people believed to have the illness are currently self-isolating, but Hudson wants them taken to Winnipeg, where they can have better access to health-care facilities.
“We’re recommending that we do remove them from the community and have a federal facility, a hotel in city of Winnipeg, where they are accepting people that do have COVID to isolate for the next 14 days,” he said.
Hudson added the community is working on setting up a testing station in Peguis, which is among the largest communities in Manitoba’s Interlake.
The First Nation is also working on setting up a checkstop to restrict non-essential travel into and out of the community.
“At this point, we will be turning people away that don’t have any essential services that are being provided,” Hudson said.
Meanwhile, Fisher River Cree Nation is also working to ramp up its COVID-19 testing capacity, according to a statement from the community released on Friday.
The community member who tested positive and their close contacts are self-isolating, and health-care workers are doing active daily monitoring.
Indigenous Services Canada says there are 53 active cases of COVID-19 on First Nations across Canada. That doesn’t include the probable positive cases in Manitoba, because they haven’t been confirmed at the Cadham lab.
Nine people with the illness on reserves across Canada have died, and 429 have recovered after falling ill with COVID-19.
Neighbouring First Nation concerned
First Nations are especially susceptible to community spread, and that’s concerning to Dakota Traverse, the emergency measures co-ordinator for Kinonjeoshtegon First Nation in the Interlake.
“My first initial thought was panic, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “It’s not easy to hear … something so devastating across the globe to be so near to my community.”
The First Nation, also known as Jackhead, is a short drive from Peguis and Fisher River.
“The situation in Jackhead right now is still kind of calm,” Traverse said.
“People are obviously afraid of what’s going on in our neighbouring communities, but we are taking every precautionary measure to ensure the safety and well-being of our community.”
For the time being, people can still travel in and out of Kinonjeoshtegon First Nation, but the community is establishing a checkstop to monitor who’s coming in and leaving.