Medical team sent to guide Vancouver Island First Nation through COVID-19 outbreak

WatchA medical response team has been dispatched to a remote Vancouver Island First Nation community to help guide it through a serious COVID-19 outbreak.

A medical response team has been dispatched to a remote Vancouver Island First Nation community to help guide it through a serious COVID-19 outbreak.

On Monday morning the team that arrived in Ehatis reserve to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak within the Ehattesaht Chinehkint First Nation community near Zeballos provided a live update from the reserve.

As of Nov. 30, 17 cases had been identified through testing of which eight have recovered said Dr. Charmaine Enns, North Island’s medical health officer who addressed community members and answered their questions and concerns through Facebook live.

Enns was joined by Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council’s (NTC) nurse navigator Lesley Cerney, and First Nation Health Authority’s (FNHA) regional mental health manager Georjeana Paterson and Ehattesaht chief Simon John. The team is expected to be in the community for the next three days.

“Everyone is in isolation right now, it’s a lockdown, no one’s leaving the community,” said Ehattesaht Councillor Ashley John.  “We have more than half the community now considered close contacts and are being monitored for symptoms,” John said.

READ MORE: B.C. reports 16 deaths, more than 650 new COVID-19 cases

John says part of the reason for the quick spread is cramped living conditionsthere are only 19 houses for the 100 people who live on reserve.

She also says a wind storm knocked out power to the community for four days right before the first case was detected.

“So just imagine being in a little community with no power, everybody’s trying to live and share dinners, and share generators, and share warmth,” she said.

No case has required hospitalization, said Enns, who added that the First Nation community did a remarkable job at containing the situation by isolating and following protocols.

“We’re not at the other end as yet, but we’ll get there,” said Enns, who added that if no new cases are identified within the next two weeks, it will be safe to say that the community is out of the woods.

On Nov. 20, community members of Ehattesaht and Nuchtlaht community of Oclujce were notified about a visitor who spent time at Zeballos Elementary Secondary School testing positive for the virus. Contact tracing by BC Centre for Disease Control began on Nov. 21 after members were told to self-isolate.

Enns said that cases and close contacts are being monitored on a daily basis and community members are being asked to get tested if they display any symptoms.

At the same time, residents are being told to avoid face-to-face interactions with other community members and “stay close to home.”

Island Health and NTC nurses will be conducting testing in the Ehattesaht reserve and Zeballos Health Centre until Dec.4. NTC nurses have been going door-to-door over the weekend, testing and interacting with community residents to address health concerns.

John says they will be calling on the provincial and federal governments for better infrastructure including power, roads and internet service, once this current crisis is over.

“At times like these we realize how strong everyone is but really how vulnerable we are,” she said.

Files from Binny Paul, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter via the Canadian Press

April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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