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Releasing more data around First Nations COVID-19 cases won’t combat racism: B.C. officials

Click to play video 'Racist acts against First Nations communities condemned by B.C.’s top doctor' Racist acts against First Nations communities condemned by B.C.’s top doctor
As vaccine efforts ramp up in our province, the pandemic has become more than just a public health crisis for First Nations communities. John Hua reports. – Jan 14, 2021

First Nations health officials say releasing more data around COVID-19 cases in their communities may not be the right way to combat some of the racism they say their members are experiencing.

There have been reports within some First Nations communities of their members being targets of racist messages and acts due to fears they have and are spreading the coronavirus.

Critics have said more data about where cases are located could be a way to show that the virus is everywhere and not just more prevalent in some groups. But not everyone agrees.

“We have no control over what the province or the regional health authorities report publicly,” Dr. Shannon McDonald, acting chief medical officer with the First Nations Health Authority, said Thursday.

“The detail of the local appearance of COVID cases has been less frequently reported and that can be a challenge.”

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“Would it be helpful to know where every case is? Probably not.”

Click to play video 'B.C. First Nations hit a roadblock as they try to get information about COVID-19 cases near their communities' B.C. First Nations hit a roadblock as they try to get information about COVID-19 cases near their communities
B.C. First Nations hit a roadblock as they try to get information about COVID-19 cases near their communities – Dec 18, 2020

Read more: B.C. mayor blasts ‘racist rhetoric’ directed at First Nation amid COVID-19 outbreak

Recently, North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring took to Facebook to call out some community members’ response to an outbreak at the Cowichan Tribes First Nation.

After the nation issued a shelter-in-place order following 39 COVID-19 cases in 19 households, Siebring said the information translated into outwardly racist online posts and an “us/them mentality.”

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The FNHA said that is not an isolated incident.

“There has been a lot of racism-infused backlash against some members of [communities],” senior medical officer Dr. Nel Wieman said.
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“This is an example of a stressor that brings things into relief. Racism towards First Nations individuals from certain communities during the pandemic didn’t just arise because of the pandemic.”

McDonald agreed, adding the fear and anxiety people are feeling about COVID-19 could trigger other behaviour toward First Nations people, resulting in racist behaviour.

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Concerns about B.C. First Nations not having access to COVID-19 data – Dec 17, 2020

Read more: First COVID-19 cases detected on Musqueam reserve

It has been almost a year since the first COVID-19 case was identified in a First Nations community in B.C.

As of Wednesday, there have been 2,500 cases across the province, with about 40 per cent of cases being identified in communities, the FNHA said Thursday.

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There remain about 600 active cases, while 32 First Nations people in B.C. have died from complications related to the virus.

“Those are people and not just numbers, and our communities have really struggled to deal with the losses and, sometimes, multiple losses,” McDonald said.

There is a lot of hope for the upcoming vaccine distribution in First Nations communities.

As of this week, 19 of them have received a vaccine or are in the process of receiving one, the FNHA said. At the end of next week, it will be close to 60.

Remote and isolated Indigenous communities are in the first priority group to be immunized, while Indigenous seniors, age 65 and above, are next.

Officials are urging everyone to be patient.

“There is a great deal of reassurance that we’re trying to convey,” Wieman said.

“Those who are still waiting for the vaccine — we are encouraging calm and being kind to one another.”