British Columbia

COVID-19 kills Alert Bay woman after outbreak on small B.C. island

The small island community declared a state of emergency just days ago following a COVID-19 outbreak.

Patient transferred to Nanaimo following diagnosis, says 'Namgis First Nation Chief Don Svanvik

Restricting ferry traffic to and from Cormorant Island is part of the state of emergency restrictions being worked out with the 'Namgis First Nation. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

A woman from Alert Bay, B.C., has died of COVID-19 after a virus outbreak on the island where the village is located, community leaders said Friday.

The death was confirmed by 'Namgis First Nation elected Chief Don Svanvik and Alert Bay Mayor Dennis Buchanan.

Svanvik said the patient was transferred to Nanaimo, where she was hospitalized after she contracted the virus.

"One of our people has passed away," said Svanvik. "It's very difficult, we're a small community, everybody knows everybody."

A state of emergency was declared by local First Nations and the Village of Alert Bay earlier this week after a cluster of COVID-19 cases was discovered on Cormorant Island, where the village is located. 

Cormorant Island, a short ferry ride from northern Vancouver Island, is home to roughly 1,500 people. There's one primary health centre there, but COVID-19 patients in need of hospitalization are transferred to Nanaimo, Svanvik said.

While many members of the community are devastated, Svanvik thanked health care workers, and said the community will continue to work together.

"We have to continue doing the things that are necessary to get rid of this. The testing is ongoing, and we're going to continue to stay home as much as we can, physically isolate, and wash our hands," said Svanvik. "We're all in the same boat ... we just have to do what we can do to put this behind us."

'Tragedy for all of us'

On Saturday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry commented on the death during her daily briefing on COVID-19.

Her voice appeared to waver with emotion as she recognized all deaths in the province related to the virus, but especially this one.

Watch Dr. Bonnie Henry acknowledge the B.C.'s first death of a First Nations person from COVID-19:

B.C. health officer announces 1st COVID-19 death in a First Nations community

4 years ago
Duration 1:44
Featured VideoDr. Bonnie Henry said the death of an elder, who's seen as a keeper of culture and history, is a "tragedy for all of us."

"It's a tragedy for all of us. Our elders, in particular, in our First Nations communities are culture and history keepers," she said. 

"When they become ill and when they die, we all lose and I want you to know that we feel that collective loss today. My thoughts are with her family and her entire community as I recognize the tragic impact this has on all of them."

There are more than 20 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Indigenous communities in B.C. Provincial and First Nations health authorities do not report exact locations.