One thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has made abundantly clear is just how intertwined all Manitobans really are.
In the complex ecosystem that is our province, it’s now clear less separates urban and rural residents than one might think at first glance.
To understand this, one needs to look at how our second wave of the virus seems to be unfolding.
The first inkling the province had of the brewing story was a scene that’s played out throughout Western Canada — our Hutterite neighbours and the infections that have swept through colonies.
It is unfair to blame or stigmatize this community. Unsurprisingly, a virus that requires close contact to transmit most effectively thrived in a group that lives a communal lifestyle. We’ve seen similar patterns emerge in places like long-term care homes where residents also live in closer proximity.
The reported cases in Western Canada’s Hutterian community are also higher because they are doing the right thing. Most of the colonies in Manitoba have followed the pragmatic advice of the Hutterian Safety Council’s COVID-19 task force to participate in mass testing.
Their citizenship is in sharp contrast to a certain president’s advice south of the border: if you want to keep your numbers down, don’t test.
No reasonable Manitoban wishes any ill will on our Hutterite neighbours.
In fact, some Manitobans have rightly thanked the province’s Hutterites for their efforts. In the Niverille Citizen Lesley Gaudry wrote a heartfelt “Letter to my Neighbour.”
In the commentary Gaudry noted the Hutterian community’s contribution to the region, including making face masks in the early days of the pandemic, donations of food for community and health-care events, their efforts as part of the Eastman Mutual Aid District, and on-colony blood donor clinics. Let’s not forget years of flood-fighting efforts.
Others in the region have expressed gratitude for the transparent nature their local colonies have displayed while fighting the virus.
A friend living in Ste. Agathe noted that local parents were grateful when Crystal Springs Colony, just east of the town, revealed it was the source of a spike in infections for the region. That gave those parents some peace of mind when planning their own families’ actions.
Beyond the immediate impact of nearby communities, however, this spike or second wave also revealed a number of less obvious ties that bind.
In the following days, Winnipeg’s handful of testing centres were quickly overwhelmed. In some cases that was simply people suddenly becoming concerned that their mild post-nasal drip might not be allergies after all. But in many other cases it was a result of the wide economic net the Hutterite colonies cast in the province.
The Winnipeg Free Press reported July 21 of one construction company official whose employer had told him to stay away from work until receiving a negative test, due to exposure through a Hutterite colony he’d worked at.
That in turn led to what appears to be inadequate testing capacity — a total of three sites for more than 700,000 people in Winnipeg — to be quickly overwhelmed, resulting in some less than desirable outcomes for rural and urban citizens alike.
Anecdotally Winnipeg citizens tell of being turned away at local testing sites and being told to visit nearby sites outside the city by front-line health workers, in communities like Carman, Steinbach and Selkirk.
In essence, the provincial message appeared to have flipped from “stay home” to “take an ill and possibly contagious family member on a road trip.”
This was an unacceptable outcome all around. For those who were ill, it subjected them to the indignity of having to travel while sick. For the communities hosting these sites, it set up a pipeline of potentially contagious visitors in the midst of a pandemic.
Again and again around the world, the pandemic is revealing the interconnectedness of every echelon of our societies.
Consider this curious case from Boston, where a ‘super-spreader’ event at a leadership convention of the biotech firm Biogen has been linked by DNA sequencing to a virulent outbreak in the city’s homeless shelters.
This supports a strong case for a coherent provincial response here in Manitoba that considers every facet of our society — from the urban homeless shelter to the rural school and everything in between.
It’s only by taking this holistic, stigmatization-free approach — one we should expect and demand from our elected leaders — that our entire community will be protected.
After all, we’re all Manitobans.