COVID 19 numbers back on the rise in Indigenous communities

By Marc Lalonde

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The federal government unveiled a number of support measures in response to the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic after the number of active COVID-19 cases in Indigenous communities rose again last week.

The number of active cases rose to 5,509, up nearly 500 from last week, as did hospitalizations and deaths.

There were 2,585 Indigenous people in hospitals with COVID-19 as a primary or secondary diagnosis, up 41 from last week’s 2,544. The virus has now claimed 599 lives, up another 14 from last week’s 585, Indigenous Services Canada said late last week.

“As the number of active outbreaks and active cases are hopefully reaching their peak, we will continue to work with Indigenous communities to slow the spread of COVID-19 and work towards recovery,” an ISC statement said.

Vaccination efforts are also being supported by federal measures.

ISC reported as of January 25, over 86 percent of individuals aged 12 and up in First Nations, Inuit and territorial communities have received a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. More than 43 percent of individuals aged 5 to 11 have received at least one dose.

“First Nations, Inuit and Metis have access to vaccines. Vaccine clinics are well underway in Indigenous communities across the country. Now is the time to get your vaccine. Protect your community, your Elders and your family,” ISC said.

In the event that First Nations peoples and Inuit need to travel out of their community to get to their vaccination appointment, the applicable travel costs will be covered by non-insured health benefits.

The federal support efforts include investing in mental-health programs and vaccine-confidence programs in Indigenous communities in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

In Saskatchewan, for instance, federal officials have teamed with an Indigenous-led COVID-19 vaccine confidence app by Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations called the “Talking Stick” app. The app provides a digital platform for First Nations peoples to ask questions and share their concerns, fears, and emotions about COVID-19. Talking Stick will have a network of Indigenous leaders, including Elders, Knowledge Keepers, youth ambassadors, and trusted community members to inspire trust and provide health resources to those seeking help for COVID-19.

In Ontario, ISC has partnered with Six Nations of the Grand River to help inspire vaccine confidence and get the vaccine to those who want it with mobile vaccine clinics, using a bus as a mobile vaccination clinic to make it easier for members to be vaccinated where they live. In addition, the community has also organized drive-through events to distribute rapid antigen tests, held call-in radio shows with medical experts, and launched Face Mask Fridays; giving free masks to anyone who wants one. Six Nations of the Grand River has also leveraged the voices of its community members to inspire others, recording podcast episodes featuring people who were hesitant to receive the COVID-19 vaccine about why they ultimately chose to be vaccinated.

In Alberta, ISC supports a pandemic mental-wellness town hall series that airs on Windspeaker Radio and is posted online. The radio shows feature advice from medical officers of health and mental-health support workers and guidance from Elders and Indigenous leadership. The fourth mental-wellness town hall aired January 26. Three more town halls are scheduled, with the final town hall taking place in March.

Marc Lalonde  is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the  IORI:WASE. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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