A member of the Hutterian Safety Council’s COVID-19 task force acknowledges that the recent surge in the number of coronavirus cases province-wide partially comes from Hutterite colonies.

“One of the reasons the number is so high is that the Hutterian Safety Council has been encouraging colonies to participate in mass testing,” says Ian Kleinsasser, “and a lot of colonies have done that.”

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced on Monday that 236 of the province's total case number and 148 of the active cases are related to communal living.

Kleinsasser is a resident of the Crystal Spring Hutterite Colony in the Niverville/Ritchot district of Southern Health. While many of the Hutterite-related cases are in the Prairie Mountain Health region, for the sake of full disclosure, Kleinsasser says his colony has also been hit with the virus. Though he declines to give an exact number as “people too often get obsessed with numbers,” he says his colony is at least partly responsible for the bump in the localized statistics. Niverville/Ritchot currently has 23 active cases.

“We do have a number of cases here in Crystal Springs and we are working very closely with Manitoba Health and our local health providers to ensure everybody gets tested.”

Crystal Spring is among the colonies who have allowed testing within their borders, but Kleinsasser says many remain resistant out of fear. Mass testing, he stresses, puts a colony in a very vulnerable place.

“A lot of colonies don’t want to mass test because they fear stigmatization and economic repercussions. Right now it is harvest season and they are worried they will be told that they cannot participate in the harvest if they test positive”

In Kleinsasser’s opinion, however, being open about what is happening can actually calm the nerves of those living in towns and developments nearby. Though Dr. Roussin has clearly indicated that colonies are under no pressure to offer specific details, Kleinsasser says Crystal Spring has done so for “ethical reasons,” as he does not want the people of Niverville/Ritchot fretting unnecessarily over the danger there.

He assures his neighbours that his colony is taking the situation seriously.

“We have limited all trips to essential trips only and when we do send people out we send people who have received negative tests and have no symptoms and we ensure they are wearing masks and gloves.”

He says significant measures have been taken within the colony to protect their own residents from the spread. Communal meals and events have ceased and all contact with those who are ill is being done by one individual.

“We are taking every precaution we can to ensure that the virus stays within our community and that we do not pass it onto others.”

Kleinsasser encourages the people within Niverville/Ritchot and, by extension, Southern Health, to honor this openness so that the other Manitoban colonies will see they have nothing to fear in getting tested.

“We know there could be backlash,” he says, “but we hope that there won’t be.”

Meanwhile, Kleinsasser applauds Southern Health for coming alongside their colony as they deal with these challenges. 

“We are absolutely grateful for the work they are doing and how they’ve accommodated us by showing genuine concern,” he says, “they have made having your nose swabbed about as pleasurable as it can be.”