'Is it enough? No': Cowichan Tribes calls for help after 2 new COVID-19 deaths
VICTORIA -- COVID-19 may have arrived late in B.C.'s largest First Nation, but the pandemic's deadly presence is now there and leadership worry it's not going anywhere fast.
This week, Cowichan Tribes leadership announced two new COVID-19-related deaths.
More shocking is that both of the dead were young adults in their 30s. The Nation says they both suffered from pre-existing health conditions.
The tragic turn has prompted health leaders in the First Nation to call on the government for more help.
"Is it enough? No. Do we want more vaccines? Yes," said Cowichan Tribes health director, Derek Thompson.
"Do we want more assistance if things go really bad and sideways for us? Of course we do," he said.
On Jan. 1, the tribe declared a COVID-19 outbreak. Since then, health officials have tracked 211 cases.
194 people have recovered, eight remain in isolation and six people are in hospital.
Three people have died, and a total of 79 First Nation households have been impacted.
The band has a population of around 5,000 members.
At a Thursday press conference in Langford, Premier John Horgan addressed the Nation's request for help.
"I understand and I will certainly be reaching out to the leadership to see if there is anymore we can do," said Horgan.
"But I know Dr. Henry and public health officials are doing everything they can to meet the challenges," he said.
Health-care teams with the First Nation say the spread of the virus has been tracked largely to family gatherings.
According to the Nation, cases spiked after Christmas and New Year's parties.
The band is now focusing on developing ways to recreate holiday gatherings online through video chat platforms.
Health leadership predict B.C.'s largest First Nation will not emerge from the outbreak in the medium to long-term.
In the wake of the two deaths, Nation health officials received good news Thursday.
Roughly 600 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are destined for Cowichan Tribes next week.
On Wednesday, Feb. 24, a group of select elders will receive their second dose of the vaccine.
On Jan. 13, Nation elders flooded a drive-thru vaccination clinic to receive their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
For the past several weeks, the clinic saw severe delays due to international issues with the vaccine supply chain.
While Nation leaders are asking for more support amid a rising death toll, they are also asking for improvements to the way Indigenous people are treated in the health-care system as a whole.
In early January, First Nations members were the target of racist remarks and discrimination in the Cowichan Valley because of the pandemic.
After declaring a growing cluster of cases, several members were profiled at businesses by cultural background and skin colour.
On Thursday, the Nation's health director called on Island Health and other health authorities to make good on promises to improve the treatment of First Nations people in the medical system.
"Pre-COVID, post-COVID, mid-COVID, we need to feel some sense of certainty and trust with the systems," said Thompson.
In November 2020, a report into anti-indigenous discrimination in British Columbia's health-care system found "hundreds of examples of prejudice and racism."