Manitoba’s first official look at how COVID-19 is impacting First Nations people

By | May 15, 2020

WINNIPEG — Manitoba got its first official look at how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting First Nations people in the province. The information comes as a result of an agreement between First Nations groups and the province.

Data released on Friday by the Manitoba First Nations Pandemic Response Coordination Team (PRCT) showed there have been no positive cases of COVID-19 among people living on First Nations communities.

Since March 13, there have been 16 First Nations people with confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 living off-reserve. The data showed 13 of these cases are women, and three are men.

Twenty-seven per cent of these cases were caught through travel, while 73 per cent of cases were acquired through contact with a known positive case. There have been no COVID-19 deaths among First Nations people as of Friday.

“The ability to actually racialize data in events like this, and in non-COVID events, are really important for us to understand the differential impact of either disease – or in this case a pandemic – within First Nations communities,” Dr. Barry Lavallee, medical advisor to Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO).

“Lots of work has been done, so our ability to actually identify Métis and First Nations people on and off-reserve as we go forward is really vital.”

When people test positive for the virus, they have the opportunity to voluntarily self-declare as Status or non-status. The PRCT said it will release COVID-19 updates for First Nations citizens living in Manitoba every Friday moving forward.

“I am comforted by the fact that (COVID-19) is not in our First Nations communities, but also I am sympathetic for those First Nations people living in urban areas because they are exposed to all kinds of people, and they are more vulnerable,” MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee told CTV News.

“I think it hits home when you have that information right in front of you.”

PARTNERSHIP AIMS TO INFORM FIRST NATION SPECIFIC RESPONSES

This information comes after the Province of Manitoba reached a data-sharing agreement with the PRCT to use First Nations identifiers collected within the COVID-19 intake.

“It is unprecedented, to begin with, to be able to have that agreement with the government because ultimately that relationship has to be there in order for us to be able to govern effectually. We need to be able to be on the same page,” said Settee.

“I think it is very critical that there will be change because of this information, and that is what we are hoping for.”

Lavallee said this agreement will stretch beyond COVID-19, and inform how other diseases affect First Nation communities.

“I think it is a great partnership – that information-sharing agreement was a great step to be able to have these numbers and be able to follow them,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer.

CALLS FOR INCREASED TESTING AMONG FIRST NATIONS COMMUNITIES

The PRCT said as of May 12, there have been a total of 1,488 tests conducted for First Nations people living on-reserve. The Province of Manitoba said, as of Thursday, there have been 33,045 tests completed since early February.

“As the lifting of restrictions start to materialize for First Nations, we need more testing. There is no doubt,” said Lavallee, who clarified he is a family physician with expertise in looking at health indicators for First Nations.

Settee said he believes if testing was increased in First Nations communities, the results would be different.

“It doesn’t really give you the real scenario of what we’re up against, but I think that if more testing were done I think it would be able to be a little bit more aggressive in ensuring our people are safe in our first nations,” he said. “So I think that the testing within itself doesn’t really give an accurate picture of what the reality is.”

Settee called for more funding for First Nation communities to adequately respond to the pandemic.

The PRCT encouraged people to continue following the public health measures. More information about testing can be found on the Shared Health website.

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