First Nations with COVID-19 urged to quarantine off-reserve in isolation facilities

First Nations people in Manitoba who need to self-isolate are being encouraged to go off-reserve to quarantine in alternative isolation facilities, including hotels.

Nearly half of the patients who are fighting COVID-19 in Manitoba intensive care units are First Nations people, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said in a live update on their Facebook page on Friday afternoon.

Overcrowded homes on First Nations are causing infection rates to climb, said Dr. Marcia Anderson, a member of Manitoba’s First Nations pandemic response team.

She urged people to leave their reserves if they need to self-isolate and can’t do so properly in their community.

“If we do not see more people isolating out of their homes in these safer facilities, we will not see our case numbers go down. We will continue to see high number of hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths.”

16 die in a week

Isolation facilities are available to anyone who doesn’t have a private bedroom and bathroom, she said. They are free and travel is included, along with meals provided by hotels.

Language interpretation and virtual spiritual and cultural care are also available at the facilities, a representative with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said. 

In the last week, 16 First Nation people died after getting COVID-19 and 810 new cases of the virus were reported among First Nations, the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba said.

A family on Shamattawa First Nation poses for a photo through their window. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

“Still a very, very concerning trend for First Nations and no evidence at all that things are starting to get any better,” Anderson said while pointing out overall numbers for Manitoba appear to be improving.

The five-day test positivity rate remains over 22 per cent among First Nations people and they continue to make up about 30 per cent of all hospital admissions, she said.

There have been 75 First Nations COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic started, the AMC update said.

“We’ve lost 75 people so far and I certainly don’t want that to become normalized. I don’t want us to accept that that’s OK, that this is just how it’s going to be,” said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.

Nursing home residents sent to Winnipeg

The situation has become so dire on Shamattawa First Nation that about 60 troops were recently deployed to the fly-in community, where the community’s chief says roughly one-third of people on reserve have gotten sick with COVID-19.

People who test positive are being placed in the school’s gym on cots, while those who are negative and can’t isolate at home are staying in classrooms upstairs.

About 35 military members are also now in Red Sucker Lake First Nation in Manitoba, where more than two dozen people have fallen ill from COVID-19.

Residents living in a personal care home on Bunibonibee Cree Nation who recently tested positive were airlifted to Winnipeg, Anderson said. They are now in a city nursing home with their staff from the north. 

There are 104 First Nations people currently in hospital, according to the update given Friday.

Manitoba’s alternative isolation accommodation program offers shelter or hotel space to people who need somewhere to go to self-isolate due to COVID-19.

The spaces are available to anyone who has the virus, is suspected of having it or is a close contact of someone with COVID-19.

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