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Tensions remain as Haida Gwaii copes with COVID-19 pandemic

Last Updated Jul 30, 2020 at 9:27 pm PDT

FILE - The Gwaii Haanas legacy totem pole is seen after being raised in Windy Bay, B.C., on Lyell Island in Haida Gwaii on Thursday August 15, 2013. Despite a declining population, the archipelago's largest village of Queen Charlotte has almost no vacancy and both council and a housing report have pointed to Airbnb and increased tourism as a problem. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Summary

The small island community of Haida Gwaii continues to cope with its worst fear: a COVID-19 outbreak

Haida Gwaii community member Sheri Disney said after months without a case, people let their guards down

The island has just 12 hospital beds and 5,000 residents

HAIDA GWAII (NEWS 1130) — The small island community of Haida Gwaii continues to cope with its worst fear: a COVID-19 outbreak.

The community had 12 active cases as of Friday and 13 total, the first of which was detected July 16 and stems from a Haida Gwaii member who traveled off the island.

All cases were local residents, according to the province.

Masset resident and Haida Gwaii community member Sheri Disney said after months without a case, people let their guards down.

“Things relaxed quite a bit,” she said.

“It did take a few minutes for everyone to snap back into gear and start wearing their masks again and start tightening up their circles. I’ve had some stern conversations with friends, even those who I’ve wanted to keep in my circle, but they’re just not being careful enough.”

The outbreak has been a big wake up call for the about 5,000 residents living there, Disney added.

“There are a total of 12 beds on the island. If we get to a point where we have even a few tens of people, nevermind hundreds of people who are sick, that’s going to be a real strain on us.”

At the start of the pandemic, she said local health authorities were clear with so few hospital beds on the island, just a few cases could be devastating.

She added tensions remain with tourist lodges and fly-in hotels that opened in the area after the First Nations council asked them to remain closed during the pandemic.

“Certainly, it’s very sad to see an outbreak on Haida Gwaii,” Premier John Horgan said Monday.

He added Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth is working with local officials regarding the local state of emergency.

“Public health officials and local leadership will figure this out and. And I’m confident that everything that can be done is being done,” Horgan said.

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“I believe that this is a virus that does not distinguish between Indigenous and non-Indigenous. It does not distinguish between the wealthy and the homeless. It is insidious and it affects us all equally,” he added.

“And we have an equal responsibility to be respectful of each other, and to help each other, and support each other in these most difficult of times.”

The province reported the Haida Gawaii outbreak on Friday.

A bulletin released Friday says the case was self-reported.

HAIDA GWAII COMMUNITY BULLETIN – July 22, 2020To view online, visit: <https://bit.ly/3jwY5kw>

Posted by Council of the Haida Nation on Wednesday, July 22, 2020

“‘Self-reported’ means that one of our good people have notified our officials that they have tested positive for COVID-19,” reads a statement from the Council of the Haida Nation. 

“We have also received reports from community members who have been notified of possible exposure and are self-isolating. At this time, everyone must use extreme care, kindness and caution.”

On July 18, after the first case was reported on Haida Gwaii, the Old Massett Village Council and Skidegate Band Council instituted curfews and checkpoints.

The archipelago has been under a state of emergency since March 23 with travel tightly restricted.