As of May 22, Indigenous Services Canada is reporting 205 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in First Nation communities in Canada, with 45 of those cases in Ontario. Luckily, none of those cases have been found in northwestern Ontario.

Still, Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa with the NDP is continuing to question the Ontario government’s support for First Nation communities when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“First Nations in Kiiwetinoong have been doing everything possible to keep COVID-19 out of their communities. They have gone to great lengths to keep communities safe. But this government needs to do more to remedy the issues that make First Nation people more vulnerable in the first place.”

“It’s clear that the current situation poses a risk to the health of our communities in the north, and that we have higher risks than most people in Ontario,” during Question Period at Queen’s Park last week.

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.

For more information:
Are First Nation communities prepared for the Coronavirus?
NWHU explains COVID-19 testing in First Nation communities