October 1, 2020

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Peguis braces for third COVID-19 case

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OTTAWA — Manitoba’s largest First Nation is bracing for yet another COVID-19 case, as its chief accuses federal underfunding for allowing the virus to spread and pull another community into lockdown.

Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson confirmed to the Free Press his reserve has a third presumed positive test result, which he said emerged Monday evening.

The Peguis woman awaiting a final result is in a relationship with a man with a confirmed case who lives at Sagkeeng First Nation, Hudson said Tuesday. Sagkeeng has since gone into lockdown.

That brings at least five confirmed or presumed positive cases on Manitoba reserves since the pandemic started, all of which occurred this month.

The Peguis band counts 10,500 members, of whom 3,600 people live on the reserve, which sits 180 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Last Friday, the band reported two separate cases, when a rapid test conducted at the local hospital indicated a positive result, which the provincial Cadham laboratory has since confirmed.

Separately, Sagkeeng went into lockdown Monday because of a confirmed case. The reserve, 135 km northeast of Winnipeg, said only 262 members allowed onto reserve and all offices working from home.

"We want to prevent widespread community transmission and avoid outbreaks," reads a Monday notice the band posted on Facebook.

Earlier, Fisher River Cree Nation said a resident presented symptoms Sept. 8, after a visit to Winnipeg, and had confirmed results by last Friday.

On Monday, a third Peguis resident had a positive result in a rapid test around 6 p.m., said Hudson, who is waiting on confirmation from the Cadham lab.

Contract tracing is ongoing. The previous two Peguis cases did not result in any other cases from their contacts, who have been tested and are now isolating.

On Tuesday, officials at the sprawling Peguis reserve were setting up checkpoints at the 10 entrances to the First Nation. The reserve briefly implemented checkpoints at the start of the pandemic, and applied a month ago for federal funding to reinstate them, as Manitoba cases rose.

Hudson said he’s thankful Ottawa approved that request, but said it arrived too late.

"We’ve just been given the green light to move ahead on that proposal, over the weekend. But it took a positive case to enact that," he said. "We probably could have avoided this situation."

A spokeswoman for Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said Ottawa has allocated $1.3 million to Peguis for things like preventing the spread of COVID-19 and supporting vulnerable residents.

"These funds flowed directly to Indigenous communities and groups across the country, to allow maximum flexibility in adapting supports for local needs," wrote Adrienne Vaupshas.

Peguis checkpoints involve assessing entrants for symptoms and contact with anyone awaiting COVID-19 results. Local fishers would be turned away, but those who can prove they live in Peguis or communities further north will be allowed through, such as Fisher River, Kinonjeoshtegon and Dallas/Red Rose.

Hudson said his community is struggling to contain the spread due to cramped housing.

Two of the Peguis residents who tested positive lived in multi-generational homes with elderly relatives, and have since relocated to other homes on the reserve, where the household has agreed to isolate.

In the 2016 census, 45 per cent of households on the Peguis reserve reported being in major disrepair.

That was an issue for 38 per cent of homes in Fisher River, while in Sagkeeng, some 28 per cent of homes were deemed unsuitable, meaning the number of bedrooms is not suitable for the number of adults and children living at that address.

Hudson said COVID-19 cases illustrate how why communities need adequate housing and medical services in the first place. "The cost will shoot through the roof, if we don’t contain it," he said.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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