The Council of the Haida Nation (CHN) released a community bulletin just before midnight on July 17 to notify residents of Haida Gwaii that they had received a self-reported case of COVID-19 on the islands.
The bulletin also said the CHN had received reports from community members who have been notified of possible exposure and were self-isolating.
Anyone with symptoms is asked to phone the Northern COVID-19 online clinic to be referred for testing if appropriate. Call 811 or Northern Health’s Online Clinic at 1-844-645-7811. Online clinic hours are Monday to Friday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends and statutory holidays.
“At this time, everyone must use extreme care, kindness and caution,” the bulletin said. “Continue to observe the Haida Gwaii state of emergency COVID-19 measures: respect physical distancing, wash your hands before and after touching your face.”
The next day, on July 18, the CHN updated its COVID-19 emergency measures, with changes that include self-isolating for 14 days if residents return to Haida Gwaii from any location, even from within the Northern Health region, limiting all non-essential travel between communities on the islands, pulling back social circles to include only immediate family members, and curfews and checkpoints in Skidegate as well as Old Massett, from 9:30 p.m. to 6 a.m.
As part of the updated measures, residents were asked to not travel off-island unless essential, such as for medical travel. Non-resident travel to Haida Gwaii was still not permitted by the CHN. Businesses and organizations were to continue services at their own discretion, in compliance with current provincial health and WorkSafeBC standards.
The CHN also hosted a live webinar at 7 p.m. on July 17 to update residents on community care and COVID-19 measures.
The webinar, bulletin and update all followed rumours circulating on the islands that there may be a case of COVID-19 locally, some based on a now-deleted post that was shared from the Skidegate Volunteer Fire Department Facebook page.
The department later apologized for the post, saying it was “intended to remind first responders that [they] respond to all calls assuming the individual(s) are sick to avoid exposure on [their] crew.”
“[The CHN] will release information once it has been fact-checked and been made public,” the new post said.
Dr. Caroline Walker, chief of staff at the Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital, said she was “disheartened to see this rumour about a COVID-19 case spreading and creating such panic.”
“This will make people fearful to get tested and backfire on managing a pandemic,” Walker wrote in a post on social media. “The fundamentals of public health are ‘test, trace and isolate’. If we encourage fear, then people will not be tested and public health cannot do its job.
“Please continue to be kind to each other and follow the basic public health advice to keep each other safe. If there is a confirmed case, public health will notify close contacts that are at risk. If the broader public is at risk and an outbreak is declared, this will be made public.”
Physicians of Haida Gwaii also posted an update on July 18 on the Haida Gwaii Health website, reminding residents that they can all do our part by taking steps to prevent the spread of the virus, “are ready for this” and “are going to be OK.”
Earlier on July 17, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters there were three new confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the Northern Health region, involving people in separate communities. Two of the cases were connected to travel, Henry said, and an investigation by health officials was underway to do with the third.
Health officials do not release details for specific locations related to single cases unless it is deemed a cluster or an outbreak, citing privacy concerns.
The Observer has reached out to the CHN for comment.
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