Island First Nation communities see disproportionately high numbers of COVID-19

Island First Nation communities see disproportionately high numbers of COVID-19
WatchAs new COVID cases continue to be found all over BC, First nations communities here on Vancouver Island are shouldering a disproportionate amount of the Island's cases. Island health declared separate outbreaks in two first nations communities, but thanks to the quick actions of a chief, one of those outbreaks looks under control. Rebecca Lawrence reports.

First Nation communities are in some of the most remote areas of Vancouver Island. They’re also some of the most at-risk for COVID-19.

Confirmed cases are climbing across the province, but First Nation communities on the Island are facing even more significant jumps.

“Two weeks ago, I got a phone call saying that we had our first case and that was an elder. Right away we jumped into action,” said Kevin Peacey, chief of the Klahoose First Nation on Cortes Island.

Immediately, the chief implemented a strict lockdown for the community. Food is brought in on a truck, and members are asked to stay in their own homes, refraining from visiting one another.

“We’re on an emergency shut down, we have our gates up at the top of the hill, nobody is to leave unless it’s an emergency,” said Peacey.

But they aren’t the only ones.

The Ehattesaht-Chinehkints First Nation is also in the midst of its own outbreak.

Of its 100 members, 17 have tested positive in the past two weeks.

READ MORE HERE: Medical team sent to guide Vancouver Island First Nation through COVID-19 outbreak

Four of the Klahoose First Nation’s 91 members recently came down with the virus, representing 4.44 per cent of the population.

These numbers are a shocking contrast to B.C.’s overall 0.7 per cent COVID-19 infection rate.

Previously, there had been an outbreak at Alert Bay, affecting the ‘Namgis First Nation, and just this week, the chief of the Ahousaht First Nation near Tofino confirmed eight new cases.

“The transmission comes from outside of the community. So it comes with members going out of town to do the basics, pharmacy, gas station, grocery store or just seeing people,” said Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.

Once the coronavirus is introduced, it can spread like wildfire.

“Oftentimes, grandparents, parents and children all live in the same home, so you can have up to 15 to 20 people living in a home, and where do you go from there?” asks Sayers.

But if quickly caught, COVID can be contained. In Klahoose, the quick actions of the chief to lock down the community, gather support from Island Health, other First Nation communities and nurses was the key to containing the virus to only one household.

Now, the chief says Klahoose is COVID-free but is still on lockdown until at least December 7.

“I just want to make sure we are totally out of the clear before we open up our gate and head out to the stores,” said Chief Peacey.

He also says Island health has to wait two full incubation periods before declaring the outbreak over in the community, the earliest date to be December 27.

Because so many First Nations are so remote, they have to travel into nearby towns to get groceries and other necessities, and that’s where the risk is, says Sayers.

She says they need to know exactly where the cases are happening to best protect their members.

“So we know where we can go and what we can do, but we can’t govern ourselves without that information,” said Sayers, frustrated that the government still refuses to release where exactly people are testing positive.

For now, First Nations are doing their best to protect their members. Living in a lockdown, trying to protect loved ones and elders.

Rebecca LawrenceRebecca Lawrence

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