March 30, 2020

Winnipeg
-2° C, Mainly clear

Full Forecast

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

MKO recommends sweeping measures to control virus

Northern First Nations asked to limit gatherings to 10 people, close all schools and daycares

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Grand Chief Garrison Settee of MKO (centre) along with Dr. Barry Lavallee (left), Medical Advisor at Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin at Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), and Dr. Brent Roussin (right), Chief Provincial Public Health Officer hold a press conference regarding COVID-19 and First Nations, Wednesday.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Grand Chief Garrison Settee of MKO (centre) along with Dr. Barry Lavallee (left), Medical Advisor at Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin at Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), and Dr. Brent Roussin (right), Chief Provincial Public Health Officer hold a press conference regarding COVID-19 and First Nations, Wednesday.

Limiting gatherings to 10 people or less and immediate closures of schools and daycares are among the measures First Nations in northern Manitoba are being asked to take in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grand Chief Garrison Settee of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) announced the measures at a press conference Wednesday morning, alongside Dr. Barry Lavallee, medical adviser for MKO, and chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin. The measures also include limiting community access to essential services only, and conducting virus testing at alternate sites to mitigate risk for health-care workers.

Lavallee stressed the importance of social distancing in First Nations communities, adding that the MKO’s approach to isolation, quarantine and support would be focused on families living under the same roof rather than individual people. If one or two people in a home are sick, he said, all family members would be asked to self-isolate together.

He also recommended that visitation to care homes be limited, that First Nations consider immediately controlling their borders to allow only essential travel in and out, and that communities review their own health workforce to suspend medical professionals over the age of 60 from seeing patients. Hunters and medicine keepers in northern Manitoba’s First Nations are being asked to help with preparations by stockpiling protein sources and medicines that can be used in both prevention and treatment, he added.

As Manitoba works to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, Settee noted that First Nations communities are more vulnerable to the virus and must take more extreme actions, in conjunction with both federal and provincial governments, to mitigate the effect on communities.

"COVID-19 will impact First Nations very differently from the rest of Canadian society because the social determinants that we live in, and the living conditions in the north, are very different," Settee said.

"Overcrowded homes are an (incubator) for infection to spread, it will spread fast and it will impact our First Nations very differently — that is why it is important that we as leadership provide the best support that we can in making sure that our people are safe."

Lavallee said he anticipates a reduction in health services as communities control their borders, but noted that alternate and indirect means of accessing care, like video conferencing, would be made available to those in need.

With respect to COVID-19 testing in communities, Lavallee asked that tests not be conducted in nursing stations, and instead deferred to alternate spaces like empty school buildings in order to reduce the risk for health-care workers.

Roussin repeated broad public health messaging about social distancing, including self-isolation for those who are sick, as well as appropriate handwashing and cough etiquette. He confirmed that testing kits are the same for COVID-19 as for other respiratory infections, including the flu, and are both accessible in northern communities and able to be transported to laboratories. Personal protective equipment (PPE) for health-care workers and sanitation supplies for households, however, are in short supply, Settee said.

Settee asked that governments provide the necessary resources for communities to enact their own pandemic plans.

"Our response will determine the impact of the virus in our First Nations, but the government's response will also determine the impact of COVID-19 in First Nations communities, and we are calling on the governments to provide all the necessary resources for our people to be adequately prepared," Settee said.

On Wednesday, the federal government announced an Indigenous community support fund to the tune of $305 million, though it’s unclear whether that funding would support pandemic plans, stimulate reserve businesses or simply accommodate the high cost of living in the north.

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau said he wants the funding to start flowing next month, but wouldn’t specify examples of what that cash would be used for or how communities would be selected.

"There are groups of Canadians that are particularly vulnerable, and people that are in places that are far away from medical care; people who are in places where food security is a challenge are particularly impacted," Morneau told the Free Press.

"We don't know all the situations so far (and) we need to prepare ourselves for those eventualities."

Settee said he's received assurance that food prices in northern Manitoba would be frozen while stores respond to the pandemic.

"At this stage in time, I think that it is important that the government look at our First Nations people because we will not be marginalized, we will not be forgotten about during this crisis," Settee said.

As of Wednesday, Manitoba Health has reported 15 confirmed or presumptive cases of the virus, though none have been detected in northern First Nations. However, Lavallee advised not to take that for granted.

"While Dr. Roussin's team is monitoring the number of positive cases, we're wanting our communities to assume the virus is here now," said Lavallee.

 

— with files from Dylan Robertson

Julia-Simone Rutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers
Reporter

Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.

Read full biography

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

The Free Press would like to thank our readers for their patience while comments were not available on our site. We're continuing to work with our commenting software provider on issues with the platform. In the meantime, if you're not able to see comments after logging in to our site, please try refreshing the page.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us