'It's hard, I know': Ucluelet First Nation issues state of emergency due to COVID-19 outbreak

The Ucluelet First Nation on western Vancouver Island has issued a local state of emergency due to an outbreak of COVID-19.

The state of emergency was issued on Thursday, following an outbreak in the Hitacu community.

During the emergency order, travellers looking to enter the First Nation for non-essential purposes and people who are not regular residents of the community will be restricted from entering.

Ucluelet First Nation president Charles McCarthy says one resident recently tested positive for COVID-19, and five more are at risk of exposure, after a non-resident visited the community.

"We had a potential exposure from a non-citizen that was visiting the community," McCarthy told CTV News on Friday.

Contact tracers then alerted the six Ucluelet First Nations residents of their potential connection to the confirmed case.

"We went almost a year with there being almost no cases," McCarthy said, adding that the only case in recent memory occurred last month in a "youth" who became minimally ill.

"We went a year without having to do any of that, just with our preventive measures," he said. "And with that I think there comes a little bit of complacency."

HEALTH ORDER DETAILS

While the state of emergency is in effect, all Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ government buildings will be closed except for essential services. Additionally, only people who have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine will be allowed to enter the buildings, according to the Ucluelet First Nation.

Staff will still be working during this time and can be contacted by phone for questions or entry into Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ government buildings.

The nation is reminding residents that anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 should self-isolate for 14 days, and anyone who is experiencing symptoms should remain at home until they receive a negative COVID-19 test result, or if symptoms have been gone for at least 72 hours.

Deliveries of essential goods and services will be allowed to continue, according to Ucluelet First Nation leadership.

"The biggest message we've tried to put this whole time is, 'Stay within your family unit.' Now's not the time to be going from house to house or having a party," said McCarthy.

"It's hard, I know," he said. "Our tendency as First Nations people is to gather, see how everyone is doing, go next door."

McCarthy says nearly 80 per cent of Ucluelet First Nations residents are vaccinated, and he encourages everyone to get vaccinated as well.

"What's the bigger picture?" he said. "If you love somebody, if you've ever loved somebody, you’ve got to take that into consideration, because (COVID) can effect somebody close to you."

As of Friday, the state of emergency is expected to be lifted on Oct. 14, though that date is subject to change.