First Nations communities have "fared better" during pandemic than rest of BC: health officer

Jun 26 2020, 12:06 pm

While she’s encouraged by what she’s seen when it comes to how First Nations communities in BC have handled the coronavirus pandemic, the chief medical officer for the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) warned that it is not yet time for people to let down their guard.

Dr. Shannon McDonald made the comments during a joint press conference on Friday morning with BC’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“The people that FNHA serves have fared better than the rest of the population in the face of this unprecedented challenge,” McDonald said.

From January 1 to June 14, “just 87 First Nations individuals have tested positive for COVID-19,” she said. And while there have also been four deaths in that time, McDonald noted that as of today, “we only have three active cases in the province.”

And of the 87 cases, 42 of them “live on or near a reserve,” said McDonald, noting that the test positive cases are out of more than 5,500 tests that have been done so far.

The credit for this success, she said, “must go to the choices our First Nations leaders have made to implement strong public health measures.”

These measures include things such as “making unnecessary travel very limited,” and the cancellation or postponement of large gatherings “that are central to their way of life.”

And the sacrifices made, “some of them very difficult and painful, have paid off,” she said. “The worst – which many anticipated and feared – did not happen. [Transmission] between or within our communities was kept to a very small number.”

Despite these successes, she said, “this is no time to lower our guard – even as the province transitions, and begins to reopen. First Nations continue to express concern about having non-residents on their territories, and potentially bringing the infection to the community.”

In light of these concerns, McDonald said that health officials will continue to work with these communities “to prevent that from happening.”

The curve, she said “has flattened, but it has not flatlined. If we relax our precautions too quickly, we could see a surge in cases, and this is why FNHA’s recommendations remain in place. We must continue to do this for awhile longer for the sake of the most vulnerable among us.”