COVID-19 cluster identified at Esk’etemc First Nation at Alkali Lake

Esk’etemc First Nation is under community-wide isolation after a COVID-19 cluster has been confirmed. (Jonathan Hand photo)Esk’etemc First Nation is under community-wide isolation after a COVID-19 cluster has been confirmed. (Jonathan Hand photo)
(Esk’etemc News Facebook photo)(Esk’etemc News Facebook photo)
Esk’etemc (Alkali Lake) First Nation Chief Fred Robbins. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)Esk’etemc (Alkali Lake) First Nation Chief Fred Robbins. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Esk’etemc First Nation at Alkali Lake is taking action to further protect its community after a cluster of positive COVID-19 cases was identified.

Checkpoints are active at the Indigenous community 50 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake at Esk’et (Alkali Lake) Jan. 14 where Sxoxomic Community School remains closed.

The band office is also closed to the public, and most staff, including Chief Fred Robbins are working from home.

Robbins isolated himself out of fear for his wife, who had a kidney transplant six years ago.

“We’re still swabbing a lot of community members,” Robbins said Wednesday evening (Jan. 13) from his home in Esk’et.

So far 18 positive cases had been confirmed with more expected as test results are still unknown for 51 of the 97 swabs collected.

Read More: B.C. records 519 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday

The first COVID-19 case in the tight-knit community of 650 members in 135 homes was identified earlier this month.

Esk’etemc First Nation entered a two-week precautionary lockdown last year, in March 2020, and was the first Indigenous community in B.C. to do so, Robbins said.

“It helped us prepare for today, so we’re better prepared for the situation we are in now, I believe.”

Esketemc First Nation is currently under community-wide isolation.

Robbins said if there are more cases, they will consider lockdown and seek essential services support from the First Nations Health Authority, Secwepemc Health Caucus and Interior Health (IH).

Read More: COVID-19 cases climb to 25 in Bella Coola

“We’ve always followed the provincial regulations and recommendations put forward by Dr. Bonnie Henry, and that’s what I’ve been telling our community for a year now,” he said.

The nearest hospital is a 50-minute drive to Williams Lake where an outbreak was declared Jan. 13 with four Cariboo Memorial Hospital staff members testing positive.

Robbins said they were making arrangements with IH to provide them with cohorts in Williams Lake so positive or non-positive members could be closer to the hospital for medical attention, or their loved ones.

The chief doesn’t know yet when Esketemc First Nation will receive vaccines.

In the South Cariboo near 100 Mile House, Canim Lake Band Chief Helen Henderson cheered when the first two Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were rolled out in their community Thursday morning, Jan. 14.

Read More: COVID-19 vaccine rolled out to Canim Lake Band, as positive case numbers rise to 52

Tsq'escen' Kukpi7 Helen Henderson reports on an historic day for the community.

Posted by NStQ Treaty Group on Thursday, January 14, 2021

“I’m so proud of you,” Henderson said of elder Elsie Archie and community health nurse and emergency operations centre (EOC) commander Tamara White-Feather.

A COVID-19 outbreak was declared at the Indigenous community east of 100 Mile House on Jan. 11 after 32 confirmed cases had been identified.

As of Wednesday, Jan. 13 that number had risen to 52.

“It was critical for us to advocate for vaccinations to stop this outbreak,” Henderson said, noting 350 vaccines would be available for Indigenous and non-Indigenous 18 years and older living in Canim Lake.

“With the vaccine, we see light after a very few dark days,” she said.

Robbins said Esk’etemc First Nation health staff would be making recommendations for their emergency operations centre to put together a pandemic kit for every household.

“Do everything that you possibly can to keep the contact with your family so you can reassure them that you’re OK,” he said.

Read More: B.C. considers provincial COVID-19 bubble as visitors come in

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