After a spike in COVID-19 cases, the largest First Nations band in British Columbia has issued a shelter in place order for its almost 5,000 members.
As of Wednesday, according to the order documents, there have been 23 confirmed cases of the virus detected in Cowichan Tribes members since the beginning of the month. As a consequence, chief and council issued an order Wednesday that will remain in place until Jan. 22 at 5 p.m.
The order is authorized under the Cowichan Tribes' COVID-19 Community Protection Bylaw.
The tribes' total reserve area, located between Victoria and Nanaimo, B.C., is approximately 2,430 hectares and is made up of nine reserves. Checkpoints and barriers have been set up to prevent non-essential movement in and out of the territory.
What the order means
For the next two weeks, all members must stay home and leave only for work, school, medical appointments, essential shopping or to care for an ill family member. One household member should be designated to do the shopping and members are encouraged to have items delivered.
As per the current provincial restrictions, and reiterated by tribal leadership in the order, there are to be no gatherings of people from different households whatsoever.
All reserve lands have now been designated as restricted and non-members may only be on them if they are an authorized occupant, the spouse or family member of a tribal member, conducting urgent repairs, delivering goods, caring for an authorized occupant, or providing first responder or other essential services at the tribe's request.
"Our teachings — our Snuw'uy'ulh — teach us to help one another and work together for the good of all," wrote Chief William Seymour in a social media post directed to tribal members.
Sonia Furstenau, leader of the B.C. Green Party and also MLA for Cowichan Valley, said the rise in cases is a "huge cause for concern."
"The worry levels are very high as with many Indigenous communities, the housing conditions can be quite crowded. It is very difficult to contain these kind of outbreaks once they've gotten started," Furstenau said.
Island Health's chief medical health officer Dr. Richard Stanwick said the shelter in place order is being used for now and health officials are assessing whether a vaccine intervention might help.
"We've used vaccine in our long-term care facilities in the Lower Mainland very effectively to at least slow down or shorten the duration of outbreaks. We do not have that experience yet with the community. It's not a tried measure," Stanwick said.
How to get tested
COVID-19 symptoms include: cough, headache, fever, sore throat, shortness of breath, fatigue, runny nose, loss of appetite, chills, loss of sense of smell or taste, nausea and vomiting, exacerbation of chronic muscle aches, diarrhea.
Members who feel sick can be tested at the local COVID-19 assessment centre located at 5151 Polkey Rd. in Duncan, B.C. Appointments can be made by calling 1-844-901-8442.
Tribal leadership asks that no one carpool to the testing centre. The Ts'ewulhtun Health Centre, which manages public health and communicable disease control for Cowichan Tribes, is available to arrange rides as needed.