As Manitoba First Nation leaders try to curb the spread of COVID-19 among their communities, data shows First Nation members face more severe health outcomes from the virus.

As of Friday, there were 838 active cases of COVID-19 among First Nation members, according to the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team (PRCT). That is about 20 per cent of all active cases in Manitoba.

Of those cases, 42 are in hospital and nine are in intensive care, meaning First Nation members account for 26 per cent of all current COVID-19 hospitalizations in the province and 45 per cent of ICU patients.

First Nation members only make up 10 per cent of Manitoba's population.

“What we are seeing consistently is an overrepresentation of First Nation people in case counts, hospitalizations and ICU," Dr. Marcia Anderson, who works with the PRCT, said during a Facebook live update with the Assembly of Manitoba First Nations on Friday.

"All of which are indicators of higher rates of disease, but also higher of increased severity of disease.”

Anderson noted that this is a normal pattern for almost any pandemic or respiratory illness and lists two main reasons why First Nation communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

The first is inequitable access to health determinants, such as inadequate housing that may have ventilation issues, income insecurity and access to health care services.

The second is the higher rates of underlying chronic disease among First Nation members, like type II diabetes or hypertension.

“This gets complicated when health care access is challenging at baseline and then gets worsened by some of the pandemic-related measures which might make our underlying chronic diseases a bit more unstable as well," said Anderson.

Some First Nation communities in Manitoba are currently struggling to contain COVID-19.

Cross Lake First Nation is listed as "Code Red" in the province's pandemic response system and Peguis First Nation is under a self-imposed lockdown.

On Thursday night, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs held an emergency meeting with government officials on the COVID-19 situation among First Nation communities.

"Whenever these types of illnesses hit our communities it takes quite a lot of work to get them out," said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.

Dumas spoke with both federal and provincial Indigenous Services ministers along with public health officials to discuss strategies to contain the virus.

While the current situation is concerning, Dumas said talks with the government make him hopeful for the future.

“It’s actually leading towards the development of a new way forward with health services in this province and that new way includes First Nation leadership,” he said.