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'Everybody knows everybody': COVID-19 death in 'Namgis First Nation deeply felt in Alert Bay

Last Updated Apr 25, 2020 at 9:01 pm PDT

FILE: Alert Bay, Cormorant Island (Courtesy: Google Maps, Norine Smith)
Summary

The chief of the 'Namgis First Nation says the loss of a member of the small community on Friday is deeply felt by all

The doctor at the 'Namgis Health Centre expressed condolences to the woman's family, encouraged testing and distancing

A cluster of cases on the island led to a curfew and travel ban under a local state of emergency, now extended until May

ALERT BAY (NEWS 1130) — The chief of the ‘Namgis First Nation on Cormorant Island has confirmed a 59-year-old woman in that community passed away from COVID-19 on Friday.

Her death marks the first life lost to the novel coronavirus in a B.C. First Nations community, and was described by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry as a “tragedy” on Saturday. 

Alert Bay has a combined population of about 1,500 people with about 500 from the ‘Namgis First Nation, and another 500 in the Village of Alert Bay.

Chief Don Svanvik said the loss is felt deeply in the small community but said it is up to the family, which includes the woman’s four adult children, to share any more details.

“It’s obviously very sad, tragic. We’re dealing with the virus, like so many other places. We’re a small community, I’ve lived here all of my life. Most of the people that are here have lived here most of their life — or all of their life — and everybody knows everybody.”

RELATED: Northern Vancouver Island community under a new curfew order due to COVID-19

A cluster of cases on the island led to a curfew and travel ban under a local state of emergency which has now been extended until May 1.

“We’ve got cases here, we’ve got positive cases and certainly that has raised the anxiety level,” Svavnik said.

He said the community will come together to honour and mourn the woman after the outbreak has ended.

“We’ll have to do that when we get all of this behind us.”

There is a small hospital as well as a clinic in the community, but anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 has to be transported to Nanaimo for treatment.

In a video posted to Facebook Friday,  Dr. Dan Cutfeet of the ‘Namgis Health Centre offered condolences to the woman’s family and friends.

“We lost a community member today. We’re thinking of family, we’re thinking of friends in this time. We’re praying for you,” he said.

He commended the community’s commitment to physical distancing and self-isolation, while encouraging anyone with symptoms or concerns they have contracted the virus to get tested.

“There’s no shame in this, this is a virus that anyone can catch if exposed.”