Manitoba public health recording whether COVID-19 patients identify as Indigenous

Number who have tested positive isn’t made public but is being shared with Indigenous partners, province says

Manitoba’s public health department has been asking people who test positive for COVID-19 about their Indigenous identity since April 3, though the information is only being shared with Indigenous partners.

Public health providers ask anyone who tests positive for the novel coronavirus if they self-identify as First Nations, Métis or Inuit to help monitor the introduction and spread of COVID-19 among Manitoba’s Indigenous population both on and off-reserve, said a May 6 press release from Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO).

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“Having access to this information will help First Nations better plan for and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee. “We currently do not have any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in MKO First Nations and we are working hard to ensure our communities stay free of the virus, however, knowing we will have access to reliable, trusted information about positive COVID cases for First Nations citizens is reassuring.”

The agreement with the province to collect and share this data was negotiated between the government and the Health Information Research Governance Committee (HIRGC), made up of First Nations health directors and First Nations academics, which was established in 1998.

“There is nothing secretive with the data sharing process: in fact it’s been a multi-collaborative initiative from the beginning,” stated Black River Chief Sheldon Kent, board chair of the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba (FNHSSM), in  May 5 press release. “This agreement further demonstrates the willingness to work together in unity while respecting the self determination of First Nations to have ownership, control, access, and possession of their own data and information. The parameters of the agreement further outlines how the First Nations data is accessed, how reports are generated and how information is shared, and respects all applicable privacy and information laws. The agreement was negotiated to ensure data accuracy to inform pandemic planning and preparedness and confirms the willingness of parties to work together at various levels to support First Nations data sovereignty.” 

Former MKO grand chief Sheila North told the Winnipeg Free Press that sharing the information collected with the public would help people make informed decisions.

"I think we have to be as transparent as possible — as a community, as a province and as a nation — about who is getting tested and what percentage, if any, is impacting First Nations," said North, who also told the Free Press that she’d been tested for COVID-19 in March after travelling to Mexico and Ontario and then visiting Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation before developing flu-like symptoms. She isolated herself and tested negative.

During a May 4 press conference, Manitoba chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said that there have not been any positive tests for COVID-19 in any First Nations community in Manitoba to date, though he did not divulge how many people who tested positive have self-identified as Indigenous. “I would only release such numbers in collaboration with our Indigenous partners.”

Public health nurses recently started asking COVID-19 patients about other race and ethnicity information apart from Indigenous self-identification.

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