British Columbia

Indigenous community in northern B.C. closes access to non-residents to curb COVID-19

The Lheidli T’enneh First Nation near Prince George, B.C., introduced a rule on Sunday to allow only residents and essential workers serving them to enter the community. There is a surge in coronavirus cases in the Prince George area.

Lheidli T’enneh First Nation will allow only residents and essential workers to enter until Oct. 12

The Lheidli T'enneh First Nation outside of Prince George, B.C., will be closed until mid-October in an effort to control the spread of coronavirus in the community.

The Lheidli T'enneh First Nation near Prince George, B.C., is being closed to non-residents until mid-October amid the latest uptick in COVID-19 cases in the community.

On Saturday, the First Nation announced an order to restrict access, effective Sunday at 6 p.m. Only residents, essential staff who provide services to these residents, and contractors who work on Lheidli T'enneh's projects are allowed to enter the First Nation's northern and southern subdivisions.

"Prince George has one of the highest COVID-19 case numbers of any B.C. community for the past couple of weeks," said Lheidli T'enneh's written statement. "The restricted access order will remain in place until Tuesday, Oct. 12." 

Latest data from B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) shows that the Prince George local health area — including the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation — recorded 280 COVID-19 cases from Sept. 19‒25, which translated into one of the highest daily rates of coronavirus infection per 100,000 people in the province.

Dr. Shannon McDonald, the acting chief medical officer of First Nations Health Authority, says she isn't surprised at the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation's decision to close its community.

"Communities are very concerned, and they have the ability to be self-determining, and the perception of people outside the community having brought the virus into the community is very strong, though not entirely correct.

Dr. Shannon McDonald, acting chief medical officer for the First Nations Health Authority, says younger adults in Indigenous communities are less willing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 than older adults. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

"Mostly people get COVID from people in their own household or their close contacts, so individuals who leave the community who go into Prince George to do the business that they need to do [and] return are as likely to bring in the virus as anyone from outside the community," McDonald said Monday to host Carolina de Ryk on CBC's Daybreak North.

Last week the Ahousaht First Nation, located off the west coast of Vancouver Island near Tofino, also closed its community to non-residents and shut its schools until this Friday.

McDonald says she's looking forward to vaccinating more adolescents aged 12‒17 against the coronavirus, but she admits it's challenging to convince younger adults aged 18‒40 to get a jab."We have a group of the population who are vaccine hesitant, who want to see how it works for other people, who want to see that nobody has really severe side effects, and they want to see if they can get through this without having gotten the vaccine. We have others who are adamant that they do not want a vaccine under any circumstance," she said.

BCCDC data indicates that 66 per cent of people aged 18‒49 in the Prince George local health area are fully vaccinated, compared to 83 per cent among people aged 50 or over living in the same area.

McDonald says the First Nations Health Authority has been discussing with Indigenous leaders about using vaccine cards as a way to control access to their communities.

 

Subscribe to Daybreak North on CBC Listen or your favourite podcast app, and connect with CBC Northern British Columbia on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Winston Szeto

Journalist, CBC Kelowna

Winston Szeto is a digital journalist based in Kelowna, British Columbia. Send him tips via email winston.szeto@cbc.ca or Twitter @winstonszeto

With files from Daybreak North and CHEK News

now