A B.C. First Nations community is going under lockdown after being visited by a recently released inmate who later tested positive for COVID-19.
Tl’etinox Chief Joe Alphonse said the man had been recently released from the Mission Institution last week was being escorted by a volunteer to a halfway house in Prince George when he stopped in the community to visit a family member.
The community is about 100 kilometres west of Williams Lake and a part of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation.
Alphonse said the community was notified Tuesday by Northern Health that the man had tested positive, adding that the man’s contacts have all now been isolated.
The man, a Tsilhqot’in member, has been quarantined in Prince George where he is doing well, he added.
“I would have assumed that the Mission Institution would have to make sure that there was no doubt that it was completely cleared up before they released anyone,” said Alphonse.
“So if he has tested positive up there, that would be quite concerning to us.”
Alphonse said the man, who was not symptomatic, has since said that he has returned a single negative test.
The community was on edge waiting for a clarification about his status from Northern Health, he said.
“Obviously, the situation has put the community under a lot of stress,” said Alphonse, adding that roads to the area are being closed to non-essential traffic.
“We’re going to go into full, complete lockdown starting tomorrow, and you know it’s difficult for First Nations in rural areas because, you know, we can go into lockdown but you’ve got nobody to enforce it.”
Global News has requested comment from the Corrections Service of Canada about whether the man was tested prior to release.
The outbreak at the Mission Institution is the largest in any Canadian prison, with at least 77 people infected and five inmates in hospital. One inmate has also died of suspected COVID-19 complications.
Fraser Health said Wednesday that testing of all inmates and staff at the facility was now underway.
“We are monitoring this,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry at her Wednesday briefing.
“The Mission facility outbreak is the second largest one that we are dealing with right now. It is complex, it involves our federal partners, CSC, it involves a lot of work that Fraser Health is doing trying to make sure we have the right infection and control measures in place to protect the inmates and the people who work at the correctional facility,” she added.
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“Part of it is being notified when people are leaving the facility and making sure we can support them, because with every outbreak and every close contact situation, we want and will be supporting people to be able to self-isolate for that 14 days so they’re not in a position of transmitting to anyone else.”
Northern Health and Interior Health said they could not comment for privacy reasons. Global News has requested comment from the First Nations Health Authority.
Alphonse said he’s hoping further testing will reveal that the initial positive diagnosis was an error, but told Global News the entire situation has left him with many questions.
“If they knew he was positive or anything like that and they let him go anyway, well, that’s really irresponsible, and I think that would be concerning for the general public as a whole,” he said.