On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. APTN News is reporting from across the country on the viral outbreak and how it is impacting Indigenous communities. For more information including a FAQ click here:
There are now more than a dozen cases of COVID-19 in Indigenous communities in Quebec with the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory so far being the hardest hit.
As of this posting, 13 people in eight communities have tested positive for the novel coronavirus that has caused tens of thousands of deaths around the world.
One Cree person has tested positive in Montreal.
“Over the last week Indigenous Services Canada has sent out significant personal protection supplies and is continuing to respond to asks with urgency,” said Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller at the federal government’s daily COVID-19 news conference in Ottawa.
“We’ve announced and are in the midst of transferring $305 million directly to Indigenous communities across Canada and we are continuing to be focused on supporting the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.”
In Quebec, Kahnawake has five confirmed cases. The Nunavik communities of Salluit, and Puvirnituq have one each. The Cree community of Chisasibi has one confirmed case as does Nemaska.
In eastern Quebec, the Innu community of Uashat Mak Mani Utenam has one confirmed case along with Nutashkuan, another Innu community.
“With everything we’ve done to date we’re focusing on being flexible and rapid so that people will get what they need and to meet their needs notably by distributing food, and to giving materials to those who are isolated or in quarantine,” Miller said in French at the news conference.
In total, 24 people in 12 communities from Quebec to Inuvik, NWT have confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Atlantic provinces ramping up efforts to slow the spread of Covid – 19
Communities across the country are taking exceptional measures to keep the virus from taking hold.
Many have set up checkpoints or banned non-essential travel while others are only allowing members in.
All are being asked to self-isolate for 14 days if they are returning from the outside world.
Watch Angel Moore with her Atlantic update:
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Nunatsiavut Inuit Government is asking people to self-isolate for 14 days in Happy Valley-Goose Bay before travelling to any of the Inuit settlement communities.
And those who have travelled outside the province of Labrador, are asked to self-monitor for another 14 days when they arrive in Nunatsiavut.
There are currently five COVID-19 cases in the health district that includes Labrador and the northeastern tip of Newfoundland, but officials will not say which communities.
Self-isolation means for 14 days, stay at home, avoid close contact with people with compromised immune systems and elders, avoid contact with others in your home, use a separate bathroom, call 811 if any respiratory symptoms appear.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic region, Prince Edward Island is only permitting essential travel across the Confederation Bridge into the province.
New Brunswick schools have committed to helping students finish the school year at home.
Nov Scotia has extended its state of emergency another two weeks.
And Newfoundland and Labrador’s health minister expects a surge in cases as is happening in other provinces.
There are so far 500 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the Atlantic region.
New cases in Six Nations, Sioux Lookout and Dryden
The second-hardest hit province is Ontario. As of this posting, 2,793 cases have been confirmed and 53 people have died.
In Six Nations of the Grand River, health officials are dealing with seven cases and one person is in self-isolation in Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation.
In northern Ontario, the 49 bands of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation have taken extreme measures to keep the virus from their members. Flights are limited and non-members are asked to stay away unless they provide an essential service.
Officials confirmed Thursday that one case was discovered in Sioux Lookout and another in Dryden, Ont.
Both communities serve a large number of surrounding First Nations.
The Northwestern Health Unit said the families of both individuals who tested positive are in quarantine.
Health officials said about two per cent of COVID-19 tests in the region have come back positive so far.
While there are no reported cases in any area First Nation communities, public health physicians are concerned.
“It’s what’s out there that’s not known that I think is really the issue here,” said Dr. Ian Gemmill. “And so this is why it’s so important at this time for all of us to respect the requirements that have been put forward to stay home and not to go out if one has symptoms.
“And for those people who are well to go out only as needed for essential things for one’s family and so on.”
No new cases in Saskatchewan First Nations
Saskatchewan was the first province where someone in a First Nation community tested positive for COVID-19.
Two people in Southend Saskatchewan, which is part of the Peter Ballentyne Cree Nation, are currently self-isolating.
No other cases have been reported from the community.
NWT’s second case of COVID-19 could mean stricter physical distancing rules
The Northwest Territories confirmed its second case of COVID-19 on Wednesday.
One person tested positive in Inuvik.
Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory’s chief public health officer, said the individual had travelled to British Columbia, and after returning to Inuvik self-isolated.
According to a territorial government statement, the person “developed symptoms five days after their return and showed no symptoms during their flight back. The entire household has been under mandatory isolation along with them since March 21.”
The NWT has more than 2,000 people so far submit self-isolation plans, following the territorial travel restrictions and mandatory 14-day isolation period.
While this was the first positive test recorded in more than 10 days, the government could close in on banning gatherings by law in an effort to combat those not respecting physical distancing measures.
“Bringing people together physically out of your household is one of the quickest ways that the virus can hurt our communities. It doesn’t matter if it is in your homes, on the land or at a party. Gatherings include funerals, weddings, feasts, having friends over, spending time with your friends out at the cabin,” Kandola said.
Community members north of 60 were already encouraged to halt gatherings of all sizes. This request from the Chief Public Health Officer did not have legal binding to it.
“We are receiving reports of communities having funerals and other gatherings continuing to take place in spite of our advice to cancel all gatherings,” she said.
Currently only restrictions on travel are punishable by law, with the possibility of a $10,000 fine and six months in jail for anyone who breaks the rules on entering the territory and self-isolating.
Kandola told media that nothing is off the table when it comes to increasing compliance for those holding gatherings.
“We have closed 58 complaints after taking the necessary actions like warnings and education measures. Ten have been closed due to non-actionable information, 15 investigations are now underway,” Kandola said.
After the second case was announced, Diane Thom, minister of health and social services, extended the territory-wide Public Health Emergency, which was first declared 14 days prior under the Northwest Territories Public Health Act.
This extension is due to the continued need for response to the COVID-19 global pandemic
COVID not the only problem
Canada is also keeping a close eye on Indigenous communities during the flood season.
Some, like the Kashechewan First Nation in northern Ontario, are in talks with the military on how to best handle this year’s inevitable flood.
Towns and cities that normally take in evacuees, Timmins, Kapuskasing and Thunder Bay have all closed their doors because of the pandemic.
That means the Cree in Kashechewan are going to have to move locally.
There are communities in Manitoba that flood every year as well.
Miller said they won’t be forgotten.
“We’re working to ensure that communities are as prepared as possible for emergencies and have solid flood mitigation strategies and responses in place while ensuring that we protect communities against the spread of COVID-19,” Miller said.
The federal government is also “ordering” First Nations to put off any upcoming elections because of the pandemic.
Miller said the government will help with any issues arising from a delay in members going to the polls.
“Let me be clear. This is just the beginning. We know more support will be needed and we will be there to make sure no Indigenous community is left behind,” Miller said.
“Canada is here to support you during this uncertain time.”
With files from Angel Moore, Tom Fennario, Lindsay Richardson, Jamie Pashagumskum, Willow Fiddler and Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs