Record 34 new COVID-19 cases reported in Island Health region

A record 34 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Island Health on Wednesday, just one week after the previous high of 28 was recorded.

The province reported 519 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 12 more deaths. B.C. has now had 59,072 confirmed cases and 1,031 fatalities linked to the novel coronavirus.

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Most of the Island’s cases are in the central region, which has 130 of the 196 known active cases. There are 39 cases in the south Island and 27 in the north.

News of racist comments directed toward the Cowichan Tribes, which is grappling with a COVID-19 outbreak, were denounced Wednesday by federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller. Cowichan Tribes, the largest single band in B.C. with 4,900 members, issued a stay-at-home order until Jan. 22 after reporting 73 COVID-19 cases since Jan. 1.

Miller said he backed local leaders and residents who have spoken up against racism to support the First Nation. He said Canadians do not support such behaviour and condemned recent comments posted online that urged area businesses not to serve Indigenous customers.

“I don’t know what more there is to say, it’s disgusting,” Miller said during a news conference in Ottawa. “It’s unacceptable.”

Miller’s comment’s were ­echoed by B.C. health officials.

“We are deeply saddened by the racist commentary which has arisen within the ­community in response to the hardship being experienced by Cowichan Tribes,” says an open letter on Wednesday signed by Richard Jock, chief executive officer of the First Nations Health Authority, and Kathy MacNeil, Island Health president and chief executive officer.

Health officials started administering 600 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Cowichan Tribes elders 60 years and older on Wednesday, said general­ ­manager Derek Thompson. He said there was a “good turnout.”

Thompson said racism toward members of the First Nation increased immediately after its public disclosure of the positive cases in the community.

But the community is resilient, said Thompson, adding a newsletter posted Wednesday to the community’s Facebook page calls for unity.

“In a year that challenged us with COVID-19, racism and discrimination, an opioid crisis, and all the familiar issues of suicide, homelessness, addiction and financial instability, it becomes much more urgent to heed the call to consider what you can do individually and what we can do collectively for the good of the community,” says the newsletter.

Miller said providing vaccine to elders first will be a boost for the community because when younger people see an elder getting the shot, they’ll say: “If my grandmother can do it, I can do it.”

So far, 63,430 people have received a COVID-19 vaccine in B.C. and officials say work is underway to align available supply with a person’s level of risk.

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