The chief of a Northwestern Ontario First Nation said Monday he has not seen a plan to provide proper medical assessment, isolation or treatment of cases of COVID-19 after a community member tested positive for the virus.
Eabametoong First Nation Chief Harvey Yesno said his community is calling for a Canadian Forces field hospital with capacity to allow for the isolation of 50 to 100 community members because of chronic housing shortages.
The community also requires test kits, a safe testing site and increased health-care staff, Chief Yesno said.
“There has already been significant negligence in the lack of response to this pandemic for remote communities," he said in a statement.
"We had a lag of time here in the north to prepare, but not all parties have grasped the urgency of this situation. I expect our regional organizations and all governments to step up. What we need right now is not that complicated, but needs to be mobilized immediately.”
The case of COVID-19 in Eabametoong, also known as Fort Hope, brings to light long-standing gaps in health-care delivery for a number of remote communities, Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said Monday.
The state of health care in Nishnawbe Aski Nation territory, which encompasses 49 communities, is already severely lacking, he told The Globe and Mail, adding communities are even more vulnerable during the pandemic.
Public-health officials have also expressed concern about the potential for severe outcomes during the coronavirus crisis in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities because of long-standing health inequities and a higher proportion of community members who suffer from underlying medical conditions.
At least nine First Nations now have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. On Monday, Indigenous Services said there are 11 cases in Ontario, 20 in Quebec and four in Saskatchewan.
In a recent letter to both provincial and federal ministers, Grand Chief Fiddler urged Ontario and Ottawa to ensure there is a supply of at least 30,000 testing kits for remote and isolated First Nations in NAN territory.
He also said a team of health professionals advising NAN has raised concerns about the amount of time involved in the testing process because swabs need to be taken from remote and isolated communities to be processed at provincial laboratories.
Natalie Bocking, the public-health physician for the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority’s COVID-19 regional response team, said Monday that several groups were mobilizing to support Fort Hope.
“We are working with all levels of government in trying to get much needed supplies and help for Fort Hope and other First Nation communities,” Dr. Bocking said.
She said the patient who tested positive had travelled from Thunder Bay to Eabametoong, where the patient self-isolated at home and is now doing well.
The Thunder Bay District Health Unit is following up with the airline the person used, as well as other contacts, she added.
At a Monday news conference in Ottawa, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu did not speak to the specifics of the confirmed case but said it is far more difficult to self-isolate and practise regular handwashing in some communities.
The federal government has been working closely with communities on their pandemic plans to provide appropriate medical care and follow-up, Ms. Hajdu added.
Ottawa recently earmarked $305-million for a support fund for Indigenous communities.
Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said Monday said that public-health officials work with the federal Indigenous Services department to provide guidance on how to manage outbreaks.
“Those do have to be adapted to the realities to what is on the ground," Dr. Tam said.
More than three weeks ago, Chief Yesno, urged federal and provincial governments to respond to the needs of remote and isolated First Nations, saying it would be irresponsible to wait until the first patient arrives at the nursing station.
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