While only 10% of the population, First Nations account for nearly 70% of Manitoba’s COVID-19 cases

The pandemic’s wrath is still disproportionately affecting First Nations people in Manitoba, who now account for two-thirds of all active COVID-19 infections in the province.

Manitoba has 788 active cases involving First Nations people, amounting to 67 per cent of all cases, the province’s First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team reported on Friday.

First Nations people make up about 10 per cent of Manitoba’s population.

“This threat that we’re experiencing is impacting all of us,” Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said during a Facebook broadcast.

“Our numbers are getting worse in comparison to the province.” 

The coronavirus’s stranglehold on some First Nations communities is a key reason Manitoba is prioritizing First Nations people in its COVID-19 vaccine rollout strategy.

Adjusting for age good for First Nations

Next week, Manitoba will start to vaccinate everyone over the age of 95 who wants the shot, along with any First Nations people over the age of 75.

The province’s strategy of inoculating First Nations people before other Manitobans of the same age recognizes that First Nations people are more likely than other Manitobans to die at younger ages after contracting the illness.

“If we didn’t adjust this age, it would be unfair to First Nations people,” Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province’s vaccine implementation task force, told the briefing.

“It would be punishing people who already experience a lower life expectancy.” 

First Nations must often cope with inadequate health care and home overcrowding, which makes isolation from active cases difficult.

One of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks is concentrated on Pimicikamak, also known as Cross Lake, a First Nation in northern Manitoba. At least a quarter of the community’s 204 active cases are connected to three recent superspreader events: a wake, a funeral and a birthday party.

Dumas urged everyone living in First Nations communities to follow public health orders. He encouraged people to resist travelling on the winter roads that just opened in some communities.

“I know what the winter road means — to be able to go out, drive to Tim Hortons or go to KFC and do those things that we like to do, but the threat is there,” Dumas said. “We need to be careful and we need to continue being vigilant.”  

Over the last week, Manitoba’s First Nations reported two more deaths for a total of 146 fatalities due to COVID-19.

First Nations people who are aged 75 and above will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine injection beginning sometime next week. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

That’s a staggering number, Dumas says, considering the first First Nations person to die of the virus only happened last October. The first Manitoban to die of COVID-19 occurred last March.

“It’s more than one person a day,” Dumas said of the trend, “and it’s happening quick.”

Of the 788 active COVID-19 cases involving First Nations people, 654 of them are living on reserves, the Facebook update reported.

The disproportionate impact on First Nations people is also experienced in the health-care system. 

Thirty-one per cent of Manitoba’s hospitalizations involve First Nations (25 people) and 33 per cent of all admissions in intensive care units (four people), the response team said.

On a brighter note, Dumas says that more than 40 of Manitoba’s 63 First Nations have no active cases of COVID-19. 

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