'Don't think you’re immune because you're isolated': B.C. Indigenous chief warns after COVID-19 outbreak
VICTORIA -- Alert Bay was one of the first remote areas in B.C. to be hit with COVID-19, and the elected chief hopes no one has to live through what they did.
“It was a really scary thing,” said ‘Namgis First Nation elected Chief Don Svanvik. “You’d rather not go through a curfew or lockdown like we did.”
Every day at 9 p.m. a tsunami alert would sound in Alert Bay telling people they had to be back home in 30 minutes.
“It was a really scary time,” he said. “We believed it wasn’t going to come to us. We are a little island and we are going to know when it comes up and then boom, here it is, we have it.”
Cabins were available to people who could not self-isolate and anyone who had a positive test was flown off the remote island to a hospital.
Svanvik said there are roughly 1,500 people on the island and 30 people tested positive and one person died. Later, they learned six people had the antibodies of the virus.
“That was really surprising to everyone,” he said.
Currently, there are no cases of the virus in Alert Bay and there are limited restrictions, but the acting chief medical officer for the First Nations Health Authority said communities are in the second wave of the virus.
“We’ve seen the numbers increase significantly,” said Dr. Shannon MacDonald.
Previously, she was seeing one to two cases a day, every day. Now, daily numbers are in the double digits and climbing.
“Those numbers are increasing and the severity is increasing and we are seeing more people having to be in the hospital,” she said.
First Nations govern and set their own rules and MacDonald said she is there to guide them.
“My job is about relationship and partnering with communities and providing them the information they need to make their own decision,” she said. “That’s completely the role of a self-determining nation and I work for them.”
Another First Nation community on Haida Gwaii has confirmed a positive case of COVID-19 and Tlaoquiaht First Nation in Tofino has two positive cases.
“A small outbreak can be disastrous,” said MacDonald.
Haida Gwaii, similar to Alert Bay, is not locked down but Old Massett resident Cynthia Samuels said people are taking extra precautions.
“The first time we had the outbreak everyone was panicking and everyone was scared, but with his case we got reassured right away that this was an isolated case and that person went right into isolation,” said Samuels.
A checkpoint was set up in the past few days to monitor the people coming and going from the community.
The Tlaoquiaht First Nation is completely locked down and posted on their Facebook page asking people to stay home.
“There is to be absolutely no visitors to the community and no visiting between houses,” says the statement. “Please do not travel beyond the junction. Only leave the community for absolutely essential foods and supplies.”
Dr. MacDonald said many people in the communities have chronic diseases and are particularly at risk.
“Another thing is in some communities where housing is a challenge and multi-generational households live together in close proximity and space and all it would take is one individual to come in with COVID to have a real impact in that household,” she said.
If the virus were to come back to Alert Bay, Svanvik said he would react more quickly.
“Don’t think you’re immune because you’re isolated, absolutely follow the protocols,” said Svanvik. “You get to thinking because of isolation you’re safer and you are until you are not."