Schools in remote coastal B.C. First Nations community closed due to COVID-19

·2 min read
Teens stand outside Maaqtusiis Secondary School in Ahousaht, B.C. in January 2020, just months before a global pandemic was declared. (Chris Corday/CBC - image credit)
Teens stand outside Maaqtusiis Secondary School in Ahousaht, B.C. in January 2020, just months before a global pandemic was declared. (Chris Corday/CBC - image credit)

Students in British Columbia have been back to school for almost two weeks now and yet in a small First Nations community off the west coast of Vancouver Island classrooms sit empty.

Ahousaht is a rural village on Flores island about 30 minutes by boat from Tofino that has both an elementary and secondary school. According to Rebecca Atleo, Ahousaht's director of education, both schools will remain closed until at least Sept. 27 to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 cases in the close-knit community.

Atleo said that of about 900 Ahousaht First Nation members living on the island, nine people currently have the virus and the risk of spreading it to more households is too great to open the schools.

She said while the community is working toward a 100 per cent vaccination rate, and the majority of people are double vaccinated, the risks of breakthrough cases and infecting children who are too young to be immunized is too high.

"It's disconcerting when those people who are double vaccinated actually contracted the COVID," said Atleo, speaking Thursday to CBC's On The Island host Gregor Craigie.

Chris Corday/CBC
Chris Corday/CBC

Atleo said the later start date is also out of an abundance of caution after many community members attended a fall fair on the second weekend of September in Port Alberni, about a two hour drive from Tofino.

"I'm a little concerned about the fallout after, so it's a wait and see," she said.

British Columbia announced 661 new cases of COVID-19 and seven more deaths on Wednesday.

Two of those deaths were in the Island Health region which services 850,000 people in comparison to two deaths in the Vancouver Coastal Health region which services 1.25 million.

As of Thursday morning, there were 615 active cases in Island Health with 24 people in hospital — including 15 in critical care.

The Health Ministry says in a statement that from Sept. 7 to 13, people who were not fully vaccinated accounted for 76.5 per cent of cases.

"What worries me were the children who were getting it," said Atleo, adding there have already been a couple of children under 12 who have been infected.

The complete school reopening plan for the community is on the Ahousaht Education Authority's website.

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