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B.C. First Nation credits family who self-disclosed COVID-19 diagnosis with helping outbreak control

Click to play video 'Concerns about B.C. First Nations not having access to COVID-19 data' Concerns about B.C. First Nations not having access to COVID-19 data
WATCH: Global BC reporter Richard Zussman asks provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry about the privacy commissioner ruling that government officials do not have to give B.C. First Nations access to specific data about coronavirus infections in their communities. Henry says health officials are committed to working together and providing information so leaders can make their own decisions. – Dec 17, 2020

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.

Read more: B.C. aiming to have all First Nations communities immunized by end of March

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.

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“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.”

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

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.

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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.

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The Nuxalk First Nation in the Bella Coola Valley has seen 59 cases of COVID-19 in just a few weeks. The number of positive cases in just the first week of January exceeded the total number in all of 2020. BC Centre for Disease Control
Maps from the BC CDC show that the number of COVID-19 cases in the Bella Coola Valley quickly spiked in the first week of January. BC Centre for Disease Control

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.

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

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“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.

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Coronavirus: B.C. looks at legal options around travel with in Canada, FNHA provides vaccine update – Jan 14, 2021

“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’.”

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