Sophie Carrigan Gray
Local Journalism Initiative
First Nations communities faired quite well during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to provincial health authorities.
Less than 90 people who identify as First Nations tested positive for the virus, said Dr. Shannon McDonald, interim chief medical officer for the First Nations Health Authority. The exact number of cases is 87, with four reported deaths related to COVID-19.
Dr. McDonald said the cases were almost equally split between those living on reserve and those living off, noting that the outbreak at the Mission correctional facility and an outbreak in the community of Alert Bay accounted for many of the recorded cases.
Dr. McDonald credited much of the success at keeping case numbers low amongst the Indigenous population of B.C. to limiting travel on and off community lands.
“Limiting travel was significant. I think the other piece that was significant was the conversations communities were having with those who normally travel in and out of the community,” said Dr. McDonald, referring to those providing essential services, family members living off reserve and those continuing to travel off reserve to go to work.
Dr. McDonald said one community outbreak was the result of a related issue.
“We had one community cluster that resulted because of an individual who left to go to work in a neighbouring community and returned, but once that was acknowledged, things were put into place to really limit the spread and it was successfully stopped in its tracks.”
The FNHA doctor also addressed concerns expressed by some First Nations around the province about the newly announced phase three bringing more people into their communities. She said those who are concerned have the ability to keep measures in place to limit the number of people entering reserve land by exercising their right to self determination.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry also reiterated her previous statements urging people to be prepared if they travel within the province and respect the wishes of those communities they visit, with special attention given to the unique concerns of such places.
“The message to people is know where you’re going, and this is for all communities across B.C. because we know that First Nations communities but other communities as well are more or less prepared to welcome visitors this summer,” said Dr. Henry.
This announcement is the first of it’s kind during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was expected to hit First Nations communities harder than other populations due to high numbers of pre-existing health conditions and a lack of access to health care for many.
The pandemic has resulted in increased funding by the provincial and federal governments to support culturally-appropriate health care to First Nations communities through virtual doctor programs and increased access to transportation for medial services.