Indigenous Services minister says communities handling COVID-19 pandemic well

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said remote communities have taken strict measures to stem the spread of COVID-19 and his department is happy with the results.

“To date over $690 million in funding has been directly allocated by Indigenous Services towards the health response to COVID-19,” Miller said at the federal government’s daily news conference. “This includes activities undertaken directly by the department such as procurement of supplies and nursing services as well as the preparedness measures being undertaken by communities.”

Miller said his department responds to community requests for equipment and support within 24 hours – and nations are coping with the pandemic.

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But where the COVID-19 virus is going in terms of infections in First Nation, Inuit and Metis communities is hard to tell says the top doctor at First Nations Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB).

Dr. Tom Wong says it’s “a little bit early” to say which way the curve is going to go in Indigenous communities given that COVID-19 cases are rising.

“What we are hoping to not see is the exponential increase. What we are hoping to see is the flattening of the curve and bending the curve, and there is a way that community efforts can really contribute to bending the curve, and we’ve seen that,” said Wong.

The next two weeks will be “the critical point” for shutting down spread of the novel coronavirus.

“That’s the watershed moment that we want the curve to be actually coming down instead of going up exponentially,” Wong said on a conference call with reporters.

Miller said earlier this week the government hasn’t done any Indigenous-specific modelling because it isn’t receiving “disaggregated” data from provinces.

Wong didn’t say whether government has done any modelling specific to First Nations on-reserve, where health-care is in most cases under federal jurisdiction.

But he did say a First Nation, Metis and Inuit consortium is coming together to analyze data and perform modelling in collaboration with Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

Wong said there are 129 cases on-reserve but according to APTN News analysis of cases across the country, as of this posting, there are 166 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on reserves in the provinces, Nunavik and Nunavut. Three people have died from the novel coronavirus.

Citing privacy concerns, Wong refused to say which community is hardest hit but APTN knows of 29 cases in La Loche in Sask., and 26 on the island where ‘Namgis First Nation in B.C. is located.

According to Wong, there were 1,261 tests for COVID-19 administered at nursing stations and treatment centres on reserves since April 1.

However, Wong said this number is an “underestimation of the number of tests that are being conducted” because many get tested at provincial centres outside their communities.

Reporters also heard that the $15-million urban portion of the Indigenous Community Support has not been released, though all the funding proposals have been assessed.

“We definitely received more in terms of demand than what was available,” a public official stated.

“We just need to get validation on numbers before we can release anything because we still have a couple of organizations that we’re just confirming with at this point.”

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