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Coronavirus: Hutterian Safety Council asks province to stop ‘outing’ infected colonies

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WATCH: Calls of concern are growing louder from the Hutterian Safety Council as the Saskatchewan government continues to link colonies to new COVID-19 cases.

The Hutterian Safety Council (HSC) penned a letter to the Saskatchewan government asking for colonies to no longer be identified when reporting active coronavirus cases.

“Our primary concern is that the Ministry of Health is attaching cultural and religious attributes to COVID-19 cases. This occurs when reporting includes a reference to Hutterite communities or the more recent thinly veiled euphemism, ‘communal living setting’,” the letter said.

On Monday, the province disclosed that the majority of its 31 new COVID-19 cases came from Hutterite colonies.

“To me, it says: ‘Dear people of Saskatchewan, we have a Hutterite problem, we don’t have a COVID problem’,” HSC chair David Tschetter said.

Read more: Hutterian Safety Council urges ‘common sense’ when dealing with coronavirus

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Tschetter questioned why Hutterites are identified in case updates when no other cultural group is attached to specific outbreaks.

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He said the stigma attached to COVID-positive communities still has some Hutterites hiding symptoms and refusing tests, for fear of being “outed.”

“What this tells me is some community leaders would rather suffer in silence than face the public scrutiny of this cultural profiling,” Tschetter said.

When a case cluster poses a public risk, Tschetter said the public should be informed of the location.

But like in many colonies’ situations, if the outbreak is contained, he said there is no need to identify the colony.

On Thursday, Manitoba announced it will no longer disclose when cases are linked to Hutterite colonies unless it poses a public health risk. The switch was made to try and reduce the stigma.

Read more: Moe calls outbreak in Hutterite colonies ‘severe,’ active coronavirus cases jump over 300 in Sask.

However, according to Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, it’s important the public knows where the rise in new cases is located.

“It’s very important to recognize there will be different settings for transmission. Sometimes it will be at a barbecue and sometimes it will be in communal living settings,” said Dr. Saqib Shahab in a provincial briefing on Monday.

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“We need to identify the settings and address them in that context, but certainly not point fingers at a specific cultural group.”

In an email to Global News, the province confirmed it received the letter from HSC on Monday. It said it will respond to the letter promptly.

According to Premier Scott Moe, the province scheduled meetings with all Saskatchewan Hutterite colonies to help educate members on public health orders and to continue aggressive testing.

Tschetter recognized that some colony leaders need to do better when it comes to curbing the spread of COVID-19.

But he said actions from the provincial government, including a formal apology, would go a long way in regaining colonies’ trust.