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Haida Nation webinar focuses on how to move forward after COVID outbreak

Guests included Dr. Tracy Morgan, Dr. Jong Kim, Dr. Gordon Horner, community health nurse Nina Wynne
The Council of the Haida Nation broadcast a live Haida Gwaii Talk Coronavirus webinar on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. (Council of the Haida Nation/Facebook image)

The Council of the Haida Nation (CHN) broadcast a live Haida Gwaii Talks Coronavirus webinar on Aug. 25, with Nika Collison returning to host discussion about the community outbreak of COVID-19 on the islands and how to move forward, “especially moving into the fall months.”

The guests who participated in the webinar included Haida Gwaii’s Dr. Tracy Morgan, Dr. Jong Kim, interim chief medical health officer for Northern Health, Dr. Gordon Horner, chief of staff at the Haida Gwaii Hospital in Queen Charlotte, and Nina Wynne, who is filling in for community health nurse Heather Barnes at the Skidegate Health Centre.

To start the webinar, Collison noted that the outbreak may be declared over on Aug. 28, after the end of the second incubation period related to the outbreak cases, and the CHN is expected to update its state of local emergency measures soon. However, she added that residents should continue to call the Northern Health COVID-19 Online Clinic and Info Line at 1-844-645-7811 even if they have mild coronavirus symptoms, and asked Morton for more information about the local COVID-19 testing process.

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Morton said the thresholds for testing are now quite low, so that even if residents are reporting mild or atypical symptoms, “in the vast majority of instances, a call to the COVID line leads to them being notified someone is coming in for testing.”

If someone who is relatively well is coming in for a test, he said they will likely be asked to go to the parking lot of their local testing centre where they will be met by a medical professional for an assessment and a swab that will be done while they remain in their vehicle.

“I’m not going to sugar coat it. It is not a pleasant experience,” he said of the swab. “But please know that it’s very important for testing. We are not going to control this, we are not going to be empowered by knowledge unless people come in and get tested. So hats off to everybody who has overcome their fears and called the line, and come for testing.”

As for results, he said the swabs are sent to Prince Rupert via floatplane daily, and on arrival to the mainland they travel by ground to a lab in Terrace, for a turnaround time of about 48 to 72 hours.

“We let people know usually as soon as we get the results,” he said, adding that one of the benefits of the outbreak declaration was the daily delivery of specimens from Haida Gwaii to the mainland for analysis.

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Collison then asked Kim about the potential for reinfection.

Generally, he said the medical community is seeing at least short-term immunity from COVID-19 for people who have been infected, but the virus continues to change and evolve.

“Reinfection and that changing genetic information of the virus is a big interest,” he said. “At the same time, at this point, it’s a potential, not a known.”

He said more research on the topic is required, and strongly recommended that individuals who have been infected or exposed to the virus continue to practice COVID safety, such as good hand hygiene, physical distancing, wearing masks when in close proximity to others, and keeping social bubbles small.

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Horner reiterated there are still a lot of unknowns as to how long someone’s short-term immunity to the virus lasts and how much genetic change the virus will undergo.

“These are notoriously slippery viruses with the ability to mutate,” he said, adding that although the word “mutate” makes it sound like the virus will get worse, viruses sometimes mutate and become less infectious.

“There’s a sweet spot for viruses to transmit, where they don’t want to kill everybody they infect because then they don’t get to anyone,” he said.

He also touched on mental health, likening the first phase of the pandemic response to a hammer and the current phase to a dance.

“I know that’s a topic that’s becoming more and more important, how to balance enough contact to keep you well mentally and physically with keeping yourself safe from infection,” he said. “It’s a balancing act going forward.”

The reopening of schools in September is like a step in the dance, he continued.

“We know the harms of kids not being educated are going to mount very quickly if we’re not able to go forward with that,” he said.

“We take these steps as we learn this dance together and try not to step on each other’s toes too much.”

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Collison also asked Wynne what is was like coming to Haida Gwaii as an essential worker during this time.

Since arriving to the islands from Vancouver the week before the webinar and being welcomed with plates of food, Wynne said she has helped set up a new testing centre in Skidegate at the youth centre, as well as working with local emergency operations centres on how to create safe school environments.

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