Efforts by B.C. First Nations to keep COVID-19 rates low are working, says health officials

Concerns of a surge in cases still remain

Dr. Shannon McDonald, First Nations Health Authority (FNHA photo)

Difficult and painful sacrifices have paid off by B.C. First Nations communities amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data released Friday (June 26).

Dr. Shannon McDonald, acting chief medical officer for the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), revealed there are just three active cases of the disease within status First Nations people.

She said of the more than 5,500 tests completed from January 1 to June 14, 87 were positive and 42 of those were people living on or near reserve. Four of those who contracted the respiratory virus have died.

READ MORE: School teacher tests positive for COVID-19 as B.C. sees two new deaths, 20 cases

“Thanks to an extraordinary response from our First Nations communities, the people FNHA serves have fared even better than the rest of the population in the face of this unprecedented challenge.”

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the data from FNHA tells her the work by FNHA health directors, First Nations leaders and communities themselves to prepare for and manage the pandemic is working.

Success can be attributed to the choices of First Nations leaders who implemented strong public health measures including limiting or restricting unnecessary travel and cancelling or postponing large gatherings which are central to their culture and way of life, McDonald said.

Band offices were shuttered at many First Nations communities in some of which that also activated their Emergency Operations Centre and went into lockdown.

“The worst which many anticipated and feared did not happen,” McDonald said. “Transmission of the virus within and between our communities was kept to a very small number.”

READ MORE: B.C. reopening travel not sitting well with several First Nations

Despite the success, she acknowledged it is no time to lower our guard even as B.C. transitions and begins to reopen schools, business and travel.

Some First Nations leaders continue to express concern of having non-residents within their territories who could potentially expose their communities to the disease as travel restrictions begin to ease.

McDonald said each First Nation community is completing their own risk assessment and making choices about travellers and visitors entering their territory.

“My role is not to politically control communities but to respect their self determination,” she said.

“We continue to have conversations about how to best support the decisions that communities are making.”

The FNHA will be expanding COVID-19 testing to the most remote communities in the weeks ahead.

British ColumbiaCoronavirusFirst Nations

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