Residents of Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation will no longer have to make a lengthy trip to Sarnia, Ont. or Petrolia, Ont. to get tested for the novel coronavirus.
The First Nation announced on Monday the opening of a new COVID-19 assessment clinic at the Kettle and Stony Point Health Centre, something Chief Jason Henry says will help the community avoid what could be a potentially devastating outbreak.
“The sooner you know that you are positive or negative, the sooner you can change how you’re going about your daily activities, and the sooner health professionals can start doing contact tracing and help to limit the spread of the virus,” Henry said Monday.
“Overall, we’re very fortunate here in southwestern Ontario with our access to health care, we’re much farther ahead than many other First Nations in the province. But still… 45 minutes is a long time to access testing or health care in general.”
Kettle and Stony Point First Nation has been under a state of emergency since mid-March, and a result, has closed itself off to visitors and established a screening check-point at the community’s entrance.
The new clinic will mean residents will be able to get tested without having to go outside of First Nation borders.
The clinic is being opened in partnership with Lambton Pubic Health and Bluewater Health, with registered nurses at the health clinic conducting the swab tests, Henry said. The health unit will do contract tracing, while Bluewater Health will help process the tests and procure swabs.
With the ongoing pandemic, Henry said having the clinic close by is all the more important given the seriousness of the virus, and the elevated health risks face by members of Indigenous communities.
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A 2018 federal government report found life expectancy at birth in areas with a high concentration of First Nations people to be 73.7 for women and 67.6 for men, an average of 11.2 years lower than areas with a low concentration of First Nations people.
“If we’re saying, provincially, that this is going to affect people that are 60 plus in the highest percentages, that gets pushed down to probably 40 plus in Indigenous communities based on the co-morbidities and underlying health issues,” Henry said.
“Diabetes is rampant in our communities and many indigenous people suffer from cancer… And then, of course, we have the systemic issues where First Nations have difficulty accessing health care for various reasons.
“That leads to this strange realm where we’re sort of living less healthy than the rest of the country.”
Three cases have been confirmed on the reserve since the start of the pandemic and all have recovered, Henry said, noting local health officials believe the figure is likely an undercount.
“The local medical centre has indicated to us that they believe that there were more people that were positive with COVID-19, but refused to be tested for various reasons,” he said.
“That may have been access to the testing sites, it may have been fear for having fingers pointed. It’s hard to say why they denied the test.”
The community’s first case was the third confirmed case on an Ontario First Nations.
First Nations reserves and remote communities are considered among the most vulnerable areas in the country, due to often over-crowded living conditions that make physical distancing next to impossible and the lack of ready access to health-care services.
Indigenous Services Canada reported Sunday it was aware of 144 confirmed cases on First Nations reserves in provinces across the country, including 38 in Ontario.
“During COVID-19, during a global pandemic, it’s no time to be drawing lines in the sand and saying, ‘you stand on that side and we stand on this side’ in terms of the jurisdiction over health care,” Henry said.
“This has been a push and pull for decades between the province, between First Nations and the federal government. And this relationship that we’re fostering now with our local county for health care puts us in a great position going forward to best serve the needs of our people.”
— With files from The Canadian Press
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
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