Nuu-chah-nulth raise alarm after first COVID-19 case on reserve

Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council has confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in a member living on reserve in its territory.

The tribal council, which represents 14 First Nations spanning 300 kilometres on the west coast of Vancouver Island, has been calling for additional supports to protect its remote communities as the province opens up.

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Judith Sayers, president of the tribal council, called the ­confirmed case “a critical situation.”

It’s something we wanted to prevent. People have been working really hard trying to prevent the virus from coming in because you can see how quickly it spreads,” she said.

Communities on-reserve are particularly vulnerable to the virus, because many are remotely located and lack adequate health facilities and having many people sharing a home is common, Sayers said.

Many are also home to a large number of elders and others who are vulnerable to the virus, Sayers said.

As a condition for B.C. to move into Phase 3 of reopening, the tribal council asked the provincial government for supports, including rapid testing kits in remote communities, screening of people entering their territory, training for culturally safe contact tracing and a protocol to alert Nuu-chah-nulth communities when there is a confirmed case nearby.

Sayers said they have started to train local community members as contact tracers. “We need to have the community members be able to do the contact tracing immediately. They know our elders, they know our language, our culture, protocol, that sort of thing,” she said.

The province put one rapid testing kit in Tofino, but Sayers said that doesn’t help the northern communities that are several hours away from the nearest testing centre. The tribal council wants at least six kits in their communities.

“That’s why we need more. It just doesn’t make sense for the way our communities are spread out,” Sayers said.

The council is hoping for funding to enable nations to screen people coming to their territories, but the province has refused their request to be alerted when there’s a nearby case of COVID-19, Sayers said.

They’re calling on the province to provide greater support to their communities to keep COVID-19 out as active case numbers rise in B.C.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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