British Columbia

As COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Cowichan Tribes, vaccine brings sense of relief

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the community was at 73 on Monday and continued to climb all week. Then, a barrage of racist comments were posted online in reaction to the reported cases. But in the midst of it all, vaccines were given to 600 Cowichan Tribe members, offering some hope.

Vaccines were given to 600 Cowichan Tribe members earlier this week

Medical staff wait to administer 600 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at the drive-through Cowichan Tribes vaccine clinic. Community leaders say the clinic was a much needed morale boost during a difficult week. (Lauren Noel)

The past week has been challenging for the Cowichan Tribes on Vancouver Island.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases within the community started off at 73 on Monday and continued to climb all week.

Then, after a barrage of racist comments were posted online in reaction to the reported cases, the First Nation decided to stop publicly sharing its COVID-19 data. 

"It was a lot all at once," said Councillor Stephanie Atleo. "It left us tired and a bit overwhelmed."

Cowichan leaders say new cases continue to emerge. 

But there was a glimmer of hope, in the form of 600 vaccine doses that were delivered to the community.

Atleo was one of the people tasked with coordinating the response and said while getting vaccines was clearly positive, it led to its own challenges.

"We were informed Monday and we had the clinic up Wednesday," said Atleo.

Using the model the community developed for administering the flu shot last fall, the nation set up tents and checkpoints in parking lots. Atleo said they had originally planned to offer vaccinations over three days with the addition of a possible fourth day. But demand from community members forced them to change their plans yet again.

"I was shocked that we ended up doing it in just two days. But I was so happy for all the people who got vaccinated," said Atleo.

Being able to administer the vaccines so quickly was a result of hard work and dedication on the part of health-care staff and band workers, many of whom had to work overtime or in staggered shifts, Atleo said. 

It's not clear when the next round of vaccines will arrive, but Atleo is happy that a tough week had at least a little silver lining.

"I feel pretty confident that everybody we wanted to vaccinate first came out," she said.

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