The Northwestern Health Unit is working alongside Indigenous Services Canada to help keep Indigenous communities safe from COVID-19.

Acting Medical Officer of Health for the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Ian Gemmill, explains 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.

Gemmill explains that those test results are then sent to the NWHU, to be added to the regional and provincial data.

“We are aware that the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch are organizing control and response programs in Indigenous communities. They have the responsibility and authority, with the band councils, to set up the appropriate measures.”

“There will be some testing going on, and we will be receiving the tests. When they report a case to us, we will include them into our, and Ontario’s, count. We do not have any cases yet, to the best of my knowledge.”

The Thunder Bay District Health Unit is reporting 16 confirmed COVID-19 cases in First Nation communities in their area. In Ontario as of April 30, there were 131 active cases of COVID-19 in 23 First Nation communities across Canada.

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.

“We do work with our colleagues in Indigenous communities. I don’t think there would be too much of a delay,” Gemmill added.

Ontario’s government is currently planning a stage-by-stage approach to reopen the economy, to ensure there are appropriate measures in place so workplaces can open safely.

The first of these easing measures took effect yesterday. A small list of mostly-seasonal businesses are allowed to reopen, including garden centres with curbside pick-ups, lawn care companies and car washes.

Public health officials will carefully monitor each stage for two to four weeks, as they assess the evolution of the COVID-19 outbreak to determine if it is necessary to change course to maintain public health.

Throughout each stage, continued protections for vulnerable populations must be in place, along with the continued practice of physical distancing, hand washing and respiratory hygiene, and significant mitigation plans to limit health risks.

For more information:
‘We’re in the first inning,’ NWHU on fight against COVID-19