British Columbia

Vaccinations on the way for First Nation on Vancouver Island hit hard by COVID-19

At least 70 cases of the virus have been confirmed among Cowichan Tribes members who have been ordered to shelter in place. Now, help is coming for the elderly population of the largest First Nations band in British Columbia.

At least 70 cases of virus have been confirmed among Cowichan Tribes members

In less than a week, the number of COVID-19 cases among members of the Cowichan Tribes has more than tripled. Now, those over age 65 will receive their first dose of the vaccine. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Help is on the way for some of the most vulnerable members of a First Nation on Vancouver Island reeling from a serious COVID-19 outbreak.

At least 70 members of the Cowichan Tribes, located between Victoria and Nanaimo, B.C., have tested positive for the virus and all 5,000 members have been ordered by chief and council to stay home until Jan. 22 to reduce further spread.

The nation has seen case numbers more than triple in under a week.

Doses of a vaccine are now expected to arrive on Cowichan Tribes territory Wednesday and members over 65 will receive their first shot as soon as possible, according to the Island Health Authority.

"Our pandemic response team and team of nurses have been ready and are ready," said Cowichan Tribes general manager Derek Thompson, speaking Tuesday on CBC's On The Island.

Priority list

Thompson said a priority list has already been created and now it's just a matter of doling out the doses.

Dr. Richard Stanwick, chief medical officer for Island Health, told On The Island host Gregor Craigie that if the region was "awash in vaccines" then all members would get one now but, because of the resources available, vulnerable seniors are being prioritized.

Stanwick said the entire population of the Snuneymuxw First Nation was recently vaccinated after also seeing a surge in cases and being ordered to shelter in place.

This, he said, was manageable because the Snuneymuxw First Nation is far smaller. The Nanaimo-based nation has fewer than 2,000 members, whereas the Cowichan Tribes, at 5,000 strong, is the largest First Nations band in British Columbia.

Al Siebring condemned racist online remarks about the Cowichan Tribes. (Al Siebring/Facebook)

The spike in cases in the Cowichan region has sparked racism in the community that was recently condemned online by North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring.

"This virus is no respector of persons or of 'race.' It does not discriminate. And neither should we," said Siebring in a Facebook post.

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, and diarrhea.

Members of the Cowichan Tribes 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.