Federal government announces COVID-19 prevention and preparedness support for First Nations
- Andréa Ledding | March 16, 2020
On Friday March 14th, Valerie Gideon, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister for Indigenous Services Canada, and Dr.Tom Wong, Chief Medical Officer of Public Health, lead a Technical Briefing on prevention and preparedness for COVID-19 in First Nations communities. Various resource options include temporary shelters and increased health care providers, but most of all they stressed preventative measures.
“In speaking with First Nations partners throughout since COVID-19 surfaced as an issue around the world, we have heard concerns from First Nations about what would happen if individuals would need to be isolated or tested particularly where isolation units might be small,” said Gideon. While the temporary shelters they have available are portable structures not intended for individuals to reside in for any period of time, these will be made available for the testing and assessment of individuals if needed.
Gideon added there are some communities looking at more robust temporary accommodation solutions, including housing for increased health care providers should the community require them. “Some communities have hotels and they are full up for other purposes so we are looking at that as well in terms of more of an accommodation solution. Communities that have schools and community centres can be repurposed, but this is a possibility for smaller communities.”
They do not have a national picture of Indigenous groups yet, but said that nursing practitioners in First Nations communities would notify them should cases appear, and First Nations members are also encouraged to share that information with regional offices if they see Indigenous individuals presenting, so that support can be offered.
“If a FN individual is tested positive, that info will be shared with the individual, and we would be notified and be able to track that across the country,” said Dr. Wong. Thus far it has mainly been travellers, and community transmissions resulting from travellers, that has brought the disease to communities.
Gideon says they continue to work collaboratively with all provincial and territorial governments and have reached out to national Indigenous leaders in all territories to bring information forward specific to their regions.
“We will support communities in whatever ways we can to support their plan,” said Dr. Wong, referencing the enhanced Emergency Management plans that were encouraged to be developed, with $211 million over 5 years invested for reserves to develop pandemic plans and test them.
“It was around $17 million per year, $14 m this year was already committed,” said Gideon. “The government of Canada wants to ensure they are responsive to the needs [First Nations] will have to COVID 19 preparedness and response.”
They have requested communities to specifically think about overcrowding in their pandemic plans, including potential relocations in or out of the community. “We would be able to support relocation.”
They are also looking at temporary shelters that would have heating or other components to offer those to communities on an as-needed basis.
“Together we will work with the Indigenous communities and other partners to look at different options and other solutions,” said Dr. Wong.
Gideon noted that pandemic planning was allocated as funding even prior to H1N1, when communities experienced the importance of having plans in place. Since then they have increased funding available to create further robustness also linked to the emergency hazards plan, and ensuring there is a mental health component, something becoming more and more recognized as an aspect that needs to be included and tested regularly.
“We are going to expand contracts for nursing, we anticipate increasing capacity. Also maybe paramedics and first line responders that can support frontline,” said Gideon, adding additional resources will be deployed to communities with probable or confirmed cases that require surge support.
She also urged First Nations communities to use private modes of transportation as much as possible, for example a small taxi instead of a large shared van, hotels instead of crowded boarding rooms, to minimize exposure, for medical transportation and lodging. She notes they have been communicating regularly and are trying to reach a saturation point with respect to information, issuing provincial communiques as well. ISC has a specific website with information translated into ten Indigenous languages.
“We will continue to provide info with a variety of mechanisms, including social media, public health advice that Public Health of Canada is providing and hopefully regularize these mechanisms of communications,” said Gideon, saying telehealth is also effective.
They both emphasized the importance of prevention in frequent hand-washing and use of hand sanitizers, social distancing, quarantining if sick, and in general protecting those who may have compromised immunity due to other factors including age, diabetes and lung issues.