The ‘Namgis First Nation on a small island just north of Vancouver Island has extended its state of emergency after an elder became the first person to die from the novel coronavirus in a B.C. Indigenous community.
The woman, who has been identified by First Nation members as Cindy, passed away on Friday, according to a video update from local physician Dr. Dan Cutfeet posted to Facebook.
“This is a virus that anyone can catch,” Cutfeet warned, while asking all those with respiratory illness symptoms to come forward for testing.
A cluster of COVID-19 cases has been identified within the village of Alert Bay on Comorant Island, where the ‘Namgis First Nation is located. Local health officials have said they won’t confirm exactly how many cases have been identified, only to say it has spread within the community.
The state of emergency, which was set to expire on April 1, has now been extended until May 1.
A curfew is in force from 9:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. Alert Bay’s tsunami siren will sound at 9 p.m. each night to warn locals they have to return home.
Travel restrictions are also in place, with only essential trips to and from the island permitted.
The mayor of Alert Bay recently announced he tested positive for the coronavirus and believes he picked it up from a traveller who brought it to the island.
Local officials are also informing residents there will be no garbage or recycling pickup until further notice.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed the woman’s death at her daily pandemic update Saturday.
“This is a tragedy that’s beyond just us. It’s a tragedy for all of us,” Henry said, while extending her condolences to the woman’s family and the larger Alert Bay community.
“Our elders in our First Nations communities are culture and history keepers. When they become ill and they die, we all lose, and I want you to know that we feel that collective loss today.”
More than 20 COVID-19 cases have been identified on First Nations across B.C., although provincial health officials have not disclosed exact locations.
Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said Saturday that First Nations communities across the country have seen an uptick in novel coronavirus cases in the last week, with 95 cases confirmed since April 24.
The government previously announced $305 million for the Indigenous Community Support Fund.
Miller said the federal government is now “working quickly to get the funds out the door” for the 94 accepted programs, and are streamlining the process to allow the funds to flow directly to Indigenous communities.
—With files from Amy Judd and Hannah Jackson
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