Alert Bay had a cluster of COVID-19 cases in April, but has had no new cases since the 30th. (Alertbay.ca photo)

COVID-19: As First Nation grapples with woman’s death, Alert Bay looks to ease restrictions

By the numbers, Alert Bay’s lockdown has been effective.

Alert Bay’s state of emergency is set to continue for at least another week, but certain restrictions may be lifted, according to Mayor Dennis Buchanan.

Despite there being no new cases of COVID-19 since April 30, Buchanan will request another seven-day extension of the village’s local state of emergency from the province, following the procedures they have followed since the local declaration was initiated April 18.

Since then, 30 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in the small island community, and one 59-year-old woman passed away from the virus. It was the first coronavirus death in a B.C. First Nation community.

By the numbers, the lockdown has been effective. All non-essential travel to the island was prohibited (including local residents who left without a return pass), and a 9:30 p.m. curfew was instated. A horn blasts every night at 9 p.m., echoing across the water, giving residents a half-hour to get home. As well, anyone with symptoms has been required to self-isolate, and all residents have been strongly urged to stay home.

In total, 146 people have been tested, which is ongoing. Thirty cases were identified, with a 90 per cent recovery rate. Five patients were sent to hospital, and only one remains in hospital. One person remains in self-isolation.

“Numbers are looking exceptional,” Buchanan said.

READ MORE: State of Emergency declared in Alert Bay due to COVID-19 outbreak

READ MORE: Alert Bay woman dies of COVID-19 as death toll reaches 100 in B.C.

The travel ban may be lifted as early as Monday, but that won’t be confirmed until he gets updated information from Dr. Charlene Enns, the public health officer in charge.

The decision to loosen some or all restrictions will be made in consultation with Dr. Enns, the ‘Namgis First Nation and the Whe-La-La-U Area Council, along with several provincial organization involved in managing the situation, including the Emergency Management BC, Public Health, Vancouver Island Health Authority, First Nations Health, Indigenous Services Canada, BC Ferries, Conservation Officers, the RCMP, and others.

Don Svanvik, elected chief and a hereditary chief of the ‘Namgis First Nation, agreed that the state of emergency has been effective.

“Had there still been free travel to and from the island, the potential for more people getting it would be greatly increased. That’s a simple numbers thing,” Svanvik said. “I’m in favour of it continuing even a little bit longer.

“I’ve been really grateful and thankful for health care professionals for the great work they did looking after us. It’s hard work. They put themselves in between us, so I’m very grateful,” he said, also noting cooperation between all levels of government and community organizations.

“Our community has a long history of coming together in trying times, and we have a very good relationship with the municipality of Alert Bay. It’s been a real team effort beyond our own tripartite team on the island.”

The island community will continue to follow directives to stay home, physically distance and sanitize.

They had been in the process of preparing for the theoretical moment when the virus hit the village when the first case was confirmed.

“And then there was one positive case and then one more and one more,” he said. “It went from preparing and planning to, ‘Okay, it’s not a just-in-case, it’s really here. We’ve got to deal with this.’”


@ZoeDucklow
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