Concerns raised as number of COVID-19 cases surge on First Nations in Manitoba

People living on Manitoba reserves are being warned to stay home this Thanksgiving weekend, as the number of COVID-19 cases surge among First Nations people in the province.

According to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, since October 6, there have been 61 new cases of COVID-19 reported among First Nations people.

“Case numbers are rising proportionately higher in First Nations people in Manitoba, and the proportion of cases on reserves is rising as well,” Dr. Marcia Anderson said during a Facebook live chat with the assembly on Friday morning.

Anderson is part of a research group with the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team, which has been working with AMC in gathering data on COVID-19.

She said there are now 143 active cases of COVID-19 among First Nations people in Manitoba which makes up 15 per cent of all active cases in the province.

Sixty of the cases are on reserves, and 83 are off reserves, she said.

It’s a trend that Anderson said is concerning, since 53 per cent of COVID-19 cases among First Nations people in Manitoba have reported having underlying health conditions.

“That is a very concerning trend particularly when we think about some of the health-care service access points and challenges, especially in remote communities,” she said.

Dr. Marcia Anderson speaks in a Facebook live chat with the Assembly of Manitoba First Nations. She says the number of COVID-19 cases among First Nations people in the province are on the rise. (Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs/Facebook)

As of Friday morning, “13 of the 25 people in hospital with COVID-19 in Manitoba are First Nations,” she said. “And two of the six people in ICU are First Nations people.”

“What we are seeing is what we expected or predicted as case numbers rise in the province,” Anderson said.

“I still believe our leadership is doing everything that they can … as cases rise, it’s going to disproportionately impact First Nations people more.”

Anderson said 916 COVID-19 tests have been done as of Friday. She said the test positivity rate for First Nations people in Manitoba is at 5.95 per cent.

7 First Nations communities reporting cases

So far, seven First Nations in Manitoba are reporting cases of COVID-19: Peguis First Nation, Little Grand Rapids, Poplar River, Sagkeeng First Nation, York Landing, Split Lake and Fisher River First Nation.

“I think we are all worried,” said Melanie MacKinnon, who leads the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team.

She’s urging people to stay home this Thanksgiving weekend and said people should not be travelling to Winnipeg unless it is absolutely necessary.

“Winnipeg is an orange zone, we are in a restricted zone, so even for those of us in [Winnipeg] or off-reserve, we should be mindful of where we are going,” MacKinnon said.

Indigenous people are also at higher risk of becoming hospitalized if they contract COVID-19, she said.

“Things like poverty, overcrowded housing are all contributing factors,” she said. “Food security or lack of security and certainly limited access to enhanced or acute medical services in remote communities are all factors.”

According to Diabetes Canada, the prevalence of diabetes is three to five times higher in Indigenous populations than in the general population.

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, evidence has revealed that people with diabetes are not more likely to contract COVID-19 than people without type 1 or type 2 diabetes,” said Seema Nagpal, vice-president of Diabetes Canada, in an email to CBC News.

“But if they do get COVID-19, adults living with diabetes are at greater risk of developing serious symptoms and complications, like pneumonia, and they are almost three times more likely to die in hospital,” Nagpal said.

So far, First Nations people have not accounted for any COVID-19 deaths reported in Manitoba.

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