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First Nations people have fared better than B.C. average in COVID-19 pandemic: report

B.C. First Nations communities faring better than average in the fight against COVID-19
B.C. First Nations communities faring better than average in the fight against COVID-19

B.C.’s First Nations Health Authority says First Nations people have fared better than the provincial average when it comes to the spread of COVID-19.

Health authorities across the province tested 5,434 First Nations people for the virus between Jan. 1 and June 14.

Eighty-six of them tested positive — 42 of whom live on reserve. Nineteen First Nations people were hospitalized, and all have since been discharged. Just three First Nations patients died in relation to COVID-19 in that time, and there are currently three active cases.

B.C. enters phase 3 of COVID-19 recovery plan
B.C. enters phase 3 of COVID-19 recovery plan

“The credit for this relative success must go to our First Nations leaders for implementing strong public health measures. Communities have made unnecessary travel extremely limited and postponed or cancelled larger gatherings that are central to their culture and way of live,” acting chief medical officer Dr. Shannon McDonald said at a news conference on Friday.

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“The sacrifices made, some of them very difficult and painful, have paid off. The worst many had anticipated and feared did not happen.”

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In April, the Village of Alert Bay on the northern tip of Vancouver Island declared a local state of emergency and imposed a nightly curfew because of the pandemic.

First Nations communities have presented their own challenges because of health-care access in some remote areas and the combination of living on and off reserve.

Managing the spread of COVID-19 to B.C. First Nation communities
Managing the spread of COVID-19 to B.C. First Nation communities

The First Nations Health Authority is unique in Canada and allows for a link to provincial health information and data sets to First Nations client files. The COVID-19 testing database, held by BC Centre for Disease Control, was used to create First Nations-specific data to create a picture of the number of people who have tested positive.

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One of the main reasons that Indigenous communities have fared so well during COVID-19 is because of the history with viruses, McDonald said.

“History is an ugly thing for many First Nations communities,” she said.

“We have people alive and well who tell the stories of previous pandemics, of Indian Hospitals, of TB, of losing people in those circumstances and losing control and that kind of response, that fear response, that internal memory, makes people extremely aware.”

Many Indigenous communities have been expressing concerns about welcoming visitors as the province moves into Phase 3 of its reopening plan.

Alert Bay Mayor tests positive for COVID-19
Alert Bay Mayor tests positive for COVID-19

A group of leaders has told the province they hope to keep travellers out of their communities until there is greater information-sharing and screening of non-residents.

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“The premier cannot forget our free, prior and informed consent over our territories, and that we have not given our consent to open up the province,” Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council president Judith Sayers said.

“We will do what we need to in order to protect our people, and if there is an impasse, we need to talk. For us, it is people before economics.”