“Even with the Alpha and Delta variants, we saw it spread very easily in First Nations communities because of some of the infrastructure challenges like overcrowded housing. So that’s the biggest concern,” said Dr. Marcia Anderson, the public health lead of Manitoba’s First Nations pandemic response and coordination team.
“With the number of people who might need to be in isolation, we’re of course concerned about health-care access, particularly in remote communities where there is a nursing station with fairly minimal staff.”
Anderson says while the Delta variant remains the dominant strain, it is likely that Omicron is already starting to seep its way into First Nations communities.
“We are seeing exponential growth in the number of cases in First Nations people across Manitoba and that’s a sign that Omicron is in some of our communities,” she said.
While the province has lowered the required isolation time for COVID-19 cases to five days, the First Nations pandemic response team is still implementing a minimum seven-day isolation period in its communities. Anderson says they decided to keep the week-long isolation period for a few reasons.
“First of all, we still do have the Delta variant in many of our communities and across the world every jurisdiction was using an isolation period of 10 days for the Delta variant,” she said.
“Where we are starting to see Omicron, I think there’s a few key things – first of all, we’re still waiting for more clear evidence on how infectious people are at day five compared to how infectious they might be at day seven or day 10.”
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas says the province should have consulted Indigenous leaders before making the changes to the isolation period and contact tracing.
“It’s unfortunate that the province is deciding that they were going to reduce the amount of isolation time and reduce some of restrictions without proper consent of First Nations leadership and First Nations team leaders. That sort of sets all of us back and it sends sort of a mixed message,” Dumas told Global News.
“I think it was a mistake on the province’s part to go ahead. I’m certain that had they collaborated with us, we could have strengthened the messaging,” he added. “Because if you have the provincial government and the provincial health officer saying one thing, and you have the First Nations response team saying another, it causes confusion and we could have addressed that issue in a united statement.”
There are currently 42 Manitoba First Nations communities dealing with positive COVID-19 cases.
As of Friday, 70 First Nations people were in hospital in the province, including 22 cases on-reserve, while 13 patients were in intensive care, including five on-reserve.