Two more members of the Blueberry River First Nation have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and the band is getting no answers from Northern Health.
There are now at least three cases in the community north of Fort St. John, after the first case was publicly reported by family members and chief and council last week.
Riley Apsassin is self-reporting his diagnosis to the public so they understand the seriousness of the novel coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease, of which there is no cure or vaccine.
Apsassin said he was tested on Monday evening after going to the hospital with chest pains and bone cramps in his legs. The results were given to him today, April 16.
“I didn’t feel normal,” said Apsassin, 29. “I’ve never felt anything like that before.”
Apsassin, 29, says he is in self-isolation in Fort St. John and has given Northern Health a list of close contacts for health officials to track down.
He is the nephew of the band member and Peace Villa care home worker that first tested positive last week, and who is still in hospital on a respirator in Prince George. A third family member related to the worker has also tested positive.
Though Apsassin said he was family, he couldn’t say for certain how he contracted the virus.
“I want them to understand it’s no joke,” Apsassin said. “Stay home and stay away from everybody. I should have listened to my family and did the same, but I chose not to. I thought I was big and strong.”
There are now more than 40 Blueberry members in self-isolation due to direct contact with the three cases.
Chief Marvin Yahey says Northern Health refuses to report positive test results to the band. That aligns with reports this week that the health authority is not disclosing public health information to elected officials in other municipalities in the region.
“NHA refuses to confirm positive COVID-19 tests to our Health Department due to confidentiality issues,” said Chief Marvin Yahey.
Northern Health is also refusing to give other critical information to the band’s health department.
“NHA also refuses to advise us on my measures implemented to assist the broad community only that they are in direct contact with individuals that they need to be in contact with. We have no confirmation who they are,” Yahey said. “We are working in complete silos with NHA due to their refusal to provide any information to our Health Department.”
That means the band has to rely on the self-reporting of its members to understand the evolving nature of its pandemic, how to contain it, and who all needs support, creating some challenges in its response.
The band is in daily contact with the First Nations Health Authority and Indigenous Services Canada about its challenges, Yahey said. Northern Health has provided some personal protective equipment until another shipment arrives, which Yahey said he was thankful for.
"Our community is managing well despite these challenges with NHA,” Yahey said. “We have received assistance from our JV partners as well as a few individuals and companies who have kindly donated groceries, water and PPE’s to the community. We continue to receive calls from many companies and people from Fort St. John on how they can assist Blueberry. We are touched by the kindness.”
Apsassin said Blueberry is providing him with support through his self-isolation. “I have faith in them,” he said.
Though he has a positive outlook on his recovery, Apsassin said he has questions about how his family contracted the virus, and why he wasn't given much information at the hospital, including about some of the medication he was given.
He said he was sent home with a face mask, but with no other PPE or direction other than to stay home. "Nobody is really getting answers," he said.
Northern Health says individuals may choose to disclose their own personal health information, but says it's bound by privacy legislation to protect information about individual cases unless there is a public health reason.
Why Blueberry's Health Department would not be privy to such information is not known. Northern Health has not yet responded to a request for comment.
As of April 16, there were 32 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in northern B.C. Of those, 25 people had recovered, and two were in intensive care in hospital.
The BC Centre for Disease Control says the true number of cases is likely greater than that reported.
This is a developing story.
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at email@example.com.