Alert Bay state of emergency could be lifted if virus cases remain low

A local state of emergency in Alert Bay could be lifted as early as Friday if the number of new cases of COVID-19 remains low, says Dr. Dan Cutfeet of the ‘Namgis Health Centre.

“The sense is that it will be lifted as of Friday,” said Cutfeet, a family physician. “I think it’s served its purpose and so I think we can probably get back to some normalcy.”

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The Village of Alert Bay is on Cormorant Island, a 40-minute ferry ride from Port McNeill. The island, which is also home to the ’Namgis First Nations, has a population of about 1,500.

Since April 1, the community has had a total of 30 positive cases of COVID-19, 77 per cent of whom have recovered, Cutfeet said.

Many of those infected presented with gastrointestinal pain and problems, as well as respiratory problems, including shortness of breath, and fevers. Those with hypoxia — low blood oxygen saturation levels — were sent to hospital, he said.

Two residents remained at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital on Tuesday.

“We haven’t had any new cases since the weekend,” Cutfeet said. “We could be down to zero probably by Saturday for COVID-19 positive cases.”

The Village of Alert Bay, in co-operation with the ‘Namgis First Nation and the Whe-La-La-U Area Council, declared a local state of emergency to address a cluster of cases on Cormorant Island on April 18.

The order involves a curfew and a ban on non-essential travel and is renewed weekly.

Each night a siren sounds at 9 p.m. giving everyone 30 minutes to get home. Those who travel on the ferry for work or essential travel are told not to stop or risk losing their ferry pass.

Officials will meet today to discuss the order and the final decision about whether to lift it will be made by Thursday, said Alert Bay Mayor Dennis Buchanan.

“I know we’re going to have to lift the local state of emergency at some point, but we certainly don’t want to do it too soon,” said Buchanan, who tested positive for the disease and recovered.

Buchanan said he has received a lot of flak over the lockdown, but also credits it for reducing spread of the virus.

“It’s a decision that’s going to take a lot of thought,” he said. “To be honest with you, I’d love to be able to lift it right now, but we can’t do that until we’re sure about our numbers and there’s no more positive tests coming out.”

Cutfeet said the first case took the community by surprise. Even though the pandemic appeared to be “marching closer and closer and closer,” spread of the disease had seemed to stall as if there was a border, he said.

He was informed of the first case on April 1. “And then it happened really quickly after that.”

The response from Island Health was swift, Cutfeet said. Charmaine Enns, Island Health medical health officer for the northern region, travelled to Alert Bay to help and testing was open seven days a week.

In total, 14 per cent of the Island’s population was tested — 112 were negative and 30 positive, Cutfeet said.

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