A First Nation in the Vancouver Coastal Health region says it’s starting to get a large COVID-19 outbreak under control — and the only reason is that the first family to test positive posted on social media, alerting their community.
There have been 59 cases of COVID-19 in the Nuxalk Nation in the Bella Coola Valley in the past few weeks, according to posts on the nation’s Facebook page.
Iris Siwallace, Nuxalk emergency operations director and council member, told Global News things could have been far worse if the family who tested positive hadn’t told the nation, and posted on social media.
Siwallace said the family felt that taking matters into their own hands was the quickest way to alert their neighbours that COVID-19 had reached their community.
“From this one particular family who self-disclosed, we were fortunate then — a lot of people after that self disclosed,” Siwallace said.
“And then what happened was because of that, a lot of them did their own contact tracing.”
She said the nation then offered tests to anyone who wanted them, and ‘most of’ the positive cases were asymptomatic or had very mild symptoms.
According to posts on the Nuxalk Nation’s Facebook page, the nation was made aware of the first case on Jan. 7. By Jan. 13, there were 25 active cases. As of the latest update on Jan. 20, the number of active cases was at 30 and 29 cases had recovered.
Those numbers aren’t yet reflected in maps from the BC Centre for Disease Control, which show the geographic distribution of cases by local health area. A map showing the cumulative cases from January to December 2020, however, shows that there were eight cases in the Bella Coola Valley in total last year.
The first map of 2021, which covers the week of Jan. 3 to 9, shows 12 cases in the area in just that week.
Siwallace said nation leaders are now starting to feel confident that the outbreak is contained, but said to her it’s a clear example of how official contact tracing strategies by health authorities don’t work on the ground in small First Nations communities.
“All of us Indigenous communities keep saying the same thing (on calls with the health authorities),” she said.
“The pathway doesn’t work for on-reserve communities like ourselves.”
She said the Nuxalk Nation council has led the small, tight-knit community of about 1,500 through the outbreak by using the best tool it has: clear communication.
“One thing that alleviated a lot of the stress in our community was keeping them informed and updated daily. It was just a lot of communications we did that kept everybody at ease.”
Siwallace said that was coupled with a genuine desire from members to keep their elders and neighbours safe from the virus.
“Through this whole outbreak, we have a phrase our elder gave us, which means ‘one heart, one mind’.”View link »