Citizens of Haida Gwaii have seen their lives changed radically. Since March, we have focused diligently on social measures that have almost certainly saved lives. We now wear masks, wash our hands, stand apart from one another. We limit out travel to the mainland and upon returning, most of us isolate to protect our friends, family and neighbours. Christmas this year will be a very different experience – smaller and quieter, and for many of us, lonely. Celebration and ceremony is on hold. We cannot feast, dance or sing, celebrate marriage or birth, or grieve at funerals. The sick in hospital and elders in care cannot receive visitors. Every aspect of social life on Haida Gwaii is different. And local leadership has worked tirelessly to assess the onslaught of news, science, public health advice and epidemiology. For all this, the physicians of Haida Gwaii say haawa.

Yet, we have not been spared from COVID. Since the pandemic, 0.6% of Haida Gwaii citizenry has been infected (provincially, it is 0.7%). We have vastly increased our testing capacity: to date, over 700 COVID tests have been done with an overall positivity rate of 4%. But, we have not had any hospitalizations or deaths. Hospital staff and physicians have been carefully preparing. We run drills on how to safely manage very sick patients. We have reorganized our hospitals entirely: rooms set aside for COVID patients, additional ventilators and personal protective equipment, policies to control access and flow into the buildings, virtual appointments, limited in person meetings. However, access to medical care remains very challenging. Our vital visiting specialist program has essentially stopped, meaning that roughly 3000 consultations have not occurred. And hundreds have made the choice to delay or cancel important medical trips away.

It is clear now that there are only two ways back to normalcy. Either at least 50% of the population becomes infected, reducing the pool of vulnerable individuals. Or, an effective vaccine is provided to at least the same proportion and we acquire “herd immunity” through immunization.

On December 9, Dr Bonnie Henry announced that BC will be launching a vaccination campaign next week. Health Canada has approved the first of what will be several vaccines effective at protecting against infection. Months ago, Canada had the foresight to sign supply contracts with 7 of the top vaccine makers, so we are well positioned to gain control of the virus earlier than the majority of other countries. A comprehensive rollout plan is in place to rollout vaccines to health care staff and those in elder care first, then to vulnerable elders and those with chronic illnesses in community. It is anticipated that vaccinations will be available for anyone requesting it by June 2021. We have reached the turning point in this global battle with this disease.

Until we are there, we encourage calling the Northern Health Virtual (COVID) line @ 1-844-645-7811 if you have any COVID-19 symptoms to set up testing. Please be patient as there are long wait times to speak with a nurse or doctor on this line. But please know that you can always get tested by calling your hospital or clinic and speaking with the nurse. (Daajing Giids / Queen Charlotte 250-559-4900, Gaw 250-626-4711). Testing is the only way we can identify when the virus is on island, and we strongly encourage you to call if you are wondering if you should be tested.

To the public, again we wish to say thank you. Haawa for keeping yourself and others safe by following the advice of public health and local and provincial leadership. Together we will get through this.

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  1. I echo the gratitude for the resilience of our residents in following the guidelines and restrictions on social gatherings.

    I wish to stress though that this “turning point” in the fight against this disease is not to be regarded as solid or certain, it is only a turning point to lift our morale, not a signal to let down our guard. To be sure: the worst is yet to come in this winter season, as we are already seeing the second wave surge over our limited resource capacity in the North.

    I add that there is much uncertainty about “herd Immunity” and its effectiveness or levels needed. We cannot rely on that through infection and its toll, nor can we be sure of the numbers needed by vaccination to achieve that (more likely around 75% by most experts, and even then that depends on whether we follow guidelines) assuming it even is lasting. Though I will gladly accept a vaccine, I will not fool myself into thinking it would be guaranteed effective for any one individual, and we simply do not yet know the long term effectiveness of these vaccines: we need more time, but still it is the best shot we currently have at getting safely on top of this pandemic.

    So please keep up your bubble vigilance, better yet tighten it for the season, and for those who stray (we are only human after all) please be responsible and self-isolate. Be safe & be kind, distance, and wash your hands frequently. James Chrones

  2. We know that not a single person has died or even become seriously ill in Haida Gwaii as a result of SARS-Cov-2. We also know that, according to the WHO, most of the PCR tests being carried out are false positives, because the cycle threshold is either unspecified or is too high. So we know that the hysterical claims about ‘case numbers’ are not based on any evidence.

    What we don’t know, is how many people in Haida Gwaii have died, or are likely to die prematurely, because they have not had access to essential medical treatment because of this lock-down.

    Perhaps Tracy could fill us in on this part of the picture. This would at least provide some essential balance.

    • Haawa Mark for your comments.

      What is clear is that current case numbers do not reflect numbers of actual infections in a given population. If anything, our tests are more liable to give false *negative* results, not false positive. Based on seroprevalence studies in several countries, SARS-CoV2 has infected between 2-3 times the number of reported cases. These studies test for the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in a large sample of a given population, to estimate how many have been exposed to the virus.

      A point you made is that, for many like the young and healthy, infection with this virus can give no or mild symptoms. But for those vulnerable, like our elders or those with chronic medical conditions, infection can be deadly. But younger people do die of COVID. To put these numbers in perspective, as of Feb 12 2021 – about a year into the pandemic, 21,168 Canadians have died (of a total of 825,000 diagnosed infections). Compare that the numbers of deaths in Canada annually: 2000 traffic fatalities, 4000 opioid overdose, 4000 suicides, 80,000 from cancer.

      What also seems clear is that there are harms associated with public health directives. Businesses close, mental health suffers, chronic disease management is neglected, drug and alcohol addiction gets worse. We may disagree with the advice given. But society has entrusted these very complex decisions to our public health colleagues, whose life work is to do exactly this – provide the best, most evidence-informed advice to government and policy makers to keep us safe, while mitigating the downsides.

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