Manitoba First Nations maintain COVID-19 restrictions for now despite easing in province

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Manitoba lifted the last of its pandemic-related restrictions this week, but First Nations in the province say they live in different social circumstances and will continue to implement their own rules.

“We still have COVID in the community,” said Clarence Easter, chief of the Chemawawin Cree Nation, 400 kilometers north of Winnipeg.

On Tuesday, the province of Manitoba removed the last of its COVID restrictions, which included an indoor mask mandate and mandatory isolation periods for positive cases.

“I think these restrictions are more suited to inner cities like Winnipeg. Brandon, Dauphin, Thompson, you know, but they’re not suited to communities like ours,” Easter said.

Easter said Chemawawin has had a community checkpoint for just over two years to limit transmission of COVID-19 in the community that will remain in place for now, along with mask mandates and other guidelines.

Chemawawin Cree Nation Chief Clarence Easter said Manitoba’s health guidelines are focused on inner cities such as Winnipeg and Thompson and his community will monitor its own COVID-19 situation over the coming weeks to see if the lifting of restrictions is justified. (Submitted by Clarence Easter)

Limited health facilities

In Barren Lands First Nation, also known as Pike, the remote community of just over 300 people is currently facing an active outbreak of COVID-19, with 25 active cases as of March 15.

Chief Trina Halkett said the community has 15 homes that are currently under isolation orders and that for northern First Nations like hers, the situation is very different from other parts of the province.

Barren Lands First Nation Chief Trina Halkett has been struggling with an ongoing COVID outbreak for the past few weeks. She said an isolation trailer is being sent to the community this week and she hopes to have it up and running by April. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

“We don’t have a health care facility like what we need,” Halkett said. “We’re limited with nurses in the community, like we only have two. It’s a nursing station. It’s not like in the urban area, where they have a hospital.”

She said the group recently conducted a survey to find out what people thought about the lifting of COVID-related restrictions, with the results ending up being split nearly 50/50.

She said her management team decided to maintain certain restrictions, including the use of indoor masks and 50% capacity limits.

Protecting Elders

In the Fisher River Cree Nation, 200 kilometers north of Winnipeg, the community has also decided to maintain most of its pandemic restrictions. For Chief David Crate, the decision comes down to protecting the vulnerable.

“We have a strong senior population in the community,” he said.

The Fisher River Personal Care Home recently experienced an outbreak, and Crate said the situation was manageable thanks to the community’s high immunization rate.

Crate said the group will continue to maintain mask mandates, capacity limits, as well as mandatory proof of vaccination for public places.

The situation is different in each community

Dr. Marcia Anderson, one of the leaders of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Pandemic Crisis Response Team, said the circumstances will be different for every community in the province.

“First Nations communities and even urban Indigenous communities are examples where the underlying structural risk is higher,” Anderson said.

These risks are well known, she said, and include: more overcrowded housing, higher incidence of income insecurity, less food security, systemic barriers to accessing health care, and greater high likelihood of overcrowding in schools.

“I think when there is this higher underlying structural risk that affects your communities, we have to think not only about our personal risk, but how we contribute or can make choices that also reduce this collective risk. “, said Anderson.

Anderson said the CMA’s Pandemic Response Team encourages First Nations to keep their mask mandates and offers guidance to any community considering changing their own public health guidelines.

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