First Nations in Manitoba go on lockdown as the province deals with a spike in COVID cases


First Nations across Manitoba are dealing with a spike and record-breaking numbers of COVID-19 cases resulting in strict lockdowns as leadership tries to limit the spread of the virus.

There are 366 active cases of the virus across 17 different communities in the province, according to numbers from the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team.

Pimicikamak Cree Nation initiated a critical or code red level on the province’s pandemic response system after an outbreak occurred last month.

“Right now we’re trying to stop the spread and that’s why we have the code red,” Chief David Monias told APTN News by phone.

“If you stop people from moving around you can stop that [virus] from moving around.”

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An isolation tent in Pimicikamak Cree Nation. Photo: Chief David Monias.

Several restrictions are in place including essential travel only, members are asked to stay home and people who have to leave for medical aren’t allowed to return until the outbreak is contained.

As of Monday, 31 people have tested positive in the community, said Monias.

A team has set up an isolation tent and screening centre. Leadership used funds from the federal government’s Indigenous Community Support Fund to purchase the supplies to build the tent, said Monias.

Some members have had to go to Winnipeg for alternative isolation accommodations.


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Contract tracing has been one of the biggest challenges.

Monias says it is tedious but necessary.

“It’s very complicated and it just leads you to so many different places. It’s hard to comprehend,” he said.

Social media has been key to providing members with daily updates.

Monias does this through Facebook livestreams and announcements on the local radio station.

He also encourages people to go online to foster interactions while the community is on lockdown.

“For people that are feeling mentally exhausted in their homes…we do a lot of programming like online contests,” said Monias.

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A testing centre in Pimicikamak Cree Nation. Photo courtesy: Chief David Monias.

The exhaustion is felt by everyone in the community from Monias, who has been in non-stop meetings for more than a week, to the doctors and nurses who are working up to 16-hour days to help treat patients and contain the spread.

A code red is also in effect for Misipawistik Cree Nation until Nov. 7.

The community is dealing with its first COVID-19 case.

 

Chief Heidi Cook is also utilizing social media to update members on the situation.

“We recommend that everyone stay home. There’s an exception for outdoor recreation or outdoor activities like hunting if you’re by yourself or with members of your household only,” she said in a lengthy Facebook livestream.

While there have been several new restrictions implemented, a curfew is not one of them. This could change.

“That’s not something that we have planned,” said Cook.

“Right now we’re asking everyone to stay home for the most part so we hope that we don’t have to make more rules.”

Meanwhile the four partner Cree Nations on the Keeyask Generating Station project with Manitoba Hydro are urging the province to move the site into a code red after an outbreak started last month.

The project employs members from all four communities.

“The province must recognize and declare that there is an uncontrolled outbreak of COVID-19 at Keeyask. Failing to address this situation in an urgent manner will have dire consequences for the entire province. Action is needed immediately to protect the health of all Manitoba residents,” Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in a statement.

There are 20 workers who have tested positive, according to a news release from the crown corporation Tuesday, and another 11 workers with an initial “not clear” are awaiting further results.

There are currently 59 workers isolating in special dorms at the Keeyask site.

“Manitoba Hydro had already implemented the requirements of a code red designation where applicable prior to this declaration and we continue to work closely with public health authorities and our Keeyask Cree Nation partners to coordinate our response to these COVID cases, providing frequent and timely updates on the situation,” Manitoba Hydro CEO Jay Grewal said in a statement.

First Nations people make up 20 per cent of the active cases in the province, but this also includes people living off reserve.