Kate Green, Island Health Public Health Nurse and Nicole James, Namgis Community Health Nurse stand in the personal protective equipment at the swabbing tent that had been set up in the Cormorant Island Community Health Centre parking lot. (Submitted)

Alert Bay: COVID-19 cases go from 30 to zero thanks to health and emergency planning

Dr. Cutfeet says community leadership set Alert Bay up for success

Thanks to the efforts of dedicated health care workers, the cases of COVID-19 on Cormorant Island went from 30 to zero over four weeks.

Cormorant Island, which has a community of around 1,200 people, was a hot spot last month when the coronavirus surged through, infecting 30 people. One woman, an elder with the ‘Namgis First Nation, passed away from the virus, but hers was the only fatality on the island.

How exactly did they contain the outbreak so quickly? Local physician Dr. Dan Cutfeet credits the exceptional preparation the ‘Namgis and the adjacent community of Alert Bay have prioritized for years.

“If it was any other community, it might not have gone as well,” he said.

Cormorant Island already had an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) set up, and EOC director Shannon Alfred had pandemic planning training long before it was needed.

“Isn’t that incredible? We were like, ‘What do we do next?’ She was like, ‘Well, we need to talk to this person and get this form,’ ” Cutfeet said.

Alfred’s knowledge was critical in the quick, efficient response. She helped coordinate efforts on the island, and access support from the province.

When the cluster was identified, the two ‘Namgis Health Centre nurses kicked into gear to trace outbreak sources and educate the town. Nicole James and Teliah Vollick knew what gatherings had occurred and who was involved, Cutfeet said, so they knew who to talk to.

“We’ve been here for so long, they know who we are. So there’s trust there,” Cutfeet said.

He described knocking on doors in full protective gear to test people and take their vitals.

”It was just really incredible how well everyone worked together and really did try to assist one another,” he added.

Vancouver Island Health Authority and the Mount Waddington Health Network (MWHW) also jumped in to help.

“They did not come in and try to lead things and push around, they came in saw that we were working, offered their support, and they just did such a good job supporting us,” Cutfeet said.

“There was definitely some intensity and panic. Even though there was was some real fear around the diagnosis and what this means, everyone just really wanted to get this right,” he said.

“There were volunteers, EMS people really working hard, plugging extra shifts and working all hours.”

Regional medical health officer Dr. Charmaine Enns came in to help coordinate and direct the work, along with her team of public health nurses and an epidemiologist to support the contact tracing. The MWHN sent administrative support to bolster the Cormorant Island EOC. They helped administer hospital transfers as well as finding housing and food for patients who needed to self-isolate.

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