Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa says the Ontario government needs to do more to protect northwestern Ontario First Nation communities from the coronavirus.

“First Nations communities are especially vulnerable to the virus, as many do not have access to safe clearn drinking water, and live in over-crowded housing conditions,” said the NDP’s Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation critic, in a prepared release.

“These issues become compounded when communities are grappling with the deaths of community members, not related to COVID-19, but due to substandard healthcare and mental health services.”

On June 16, the Sioux Lookout First Nation Health Authority confirmed five new cases of COVID-19 in the area. Two of those cases were in one unnamed community, and three of them were in another. Contact tracing for any potential contacts is in place for both First Nation communities.

“We commend the culturally appropriate work of Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority, and call on the Ford government to provide the resources they need to do their urgent work,” Mamakwa added.

In March, shortly after Ontario’s State of Emergency went into effect, Mamakwa demanded more support for First Nation communities, as they regularly deal with significant social issues as it is – like overcrowding and the lack of clean water - without the threat of the Coronavirus to compound them.

“Infectious diseases are especially devastating for First Nation communities. The government tells people to wash their hands, but it’s hard to do without clean running water. The government tells people to self-isolate, but how do you do that when there are 10 or 12 people living in the home?”

The federal government is aware that no drinking water is certainly an issue for those who are fighting against COVID-19. Indigenous Services Canada’s COVID-19 information page recommends First Nation community members to:

“If you do not have access to running water, wash your hands in a large bowl and then throw out the water from the handwashing bowl after each individual use.”

Since COVID-19 is not known to spread through water, members can use water under a boil water advisory to wash your hands and for personal hygiene. But water under a do not use advisory is not suitable for any use, and hand sanitizer must be used instead.

Across Canada, northwestern Ontario has the highest concentration of long-term drinking water advisories. Of the 62 advisories remaining, 20 of them can be found in the federal Kenora District.

Acting Medical Officer of Health for the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Ian Gemmill, explained that health unit staff won’t be conducting COVID-19 testing in First Nation communities, as that work will be left for staff with Indigenous Services’ First Nations and Inuit Health Branch. Those test results are then sent to the NWHU, to be added to the regional and provincial data.

Gemmill didn’t have an estimation on the time lapse between the confirmation of a positive case, the information being sent to Indigenous Affairs and then the health unit, but he hopes it would be as “quick as possible.” He notes that these tests are being sent to a centre in Winnipeg for results.

As of June 18, over 8,000 COVID-19 tests have been taken in the Northwestern Health Unit’s catchment area. 27 residents were confirmed to have been positive, but 23 of the cases are now considered resolved.

For more information:
Higher COVID-19 risk in northern First Nations, Mamakwa
‘Racial inequalities are not acceptable,’ Mamakwa