Nuxalk elders Hazel Nappie, Violet Andy, Veronica Andy and Mercy Snow at the checkpoint which has been active since March 25. The Nuxalk EOC says it continues to provide valuable information and there is no plan to remove it anytime soon (Colleen Gabriel photo)

‘No plans’ yet to remove checkpoint, says Nuxalk EOC

COVID cases are declining but Bonnie Henry still says non-essential travel should be avoided

COVID-19 cases are on the decline throughout the province but the information checkpoint at the bottom of the hill still remains in place and is entering its 11th week.

The checkpoint, which is run by the Nuxalk Nation EOC, has maintained a presence to “protect the entire valley” and is still requesting travelers apply for permits to enter or leave the area.

Joint CCRD-Nuxalk Nation Emergency Management Coordinator Jessica Miller says that the checkpoint continues to provide a valuable service and there are no plans to take it down.

“We don’t have any plans to remove the checkpoint. It is a valuable tool especially through the summer months. The situation can change quickly so we will continue to assess the measures we’re taking and re-evaluate. In addition, if anyone has questions or concerns they can reach us at EOCinfo.nuxalk@gmail.com or call the band office,” said Miller. “According to health authorities, 80 percent of COVID-19 infections are mild or asymptomatic so we want to make sure everyone continues to receive the same message that we all must continue to take extra care.

“Even though cases are declining, the province is still at risk of a significant spike in transmissions and there is no real treatment for this virus. The checkpoint enables us to monitor traffic and provide information. The information we gather at the checkpoint and through travel access permits will support contact tracing in the case of an outbreak.”

Sharon Carroll, program manager with the Bella Coola Hospital, recently shared on Facebook that the hospital will not be testing those who travel out of town just to eliminate their desire not to self-isolate, and that the hospital is still recommending those who leave town self-isolate for 10 – 14 days after their arrival.

“We are not conducting [COVID-19] testing just because you went out of town and want a negative result to cut your isolation time down. This would not be an accurate test as you could still develop symptoms,” Carroll’s post stated. “The recommended self isolation time for those entering the community remains 10-14 days so there is adequate time to monitor yourself for symptoms and to get tested if symptoms develop. Our biggest community goal is to protect the small population of the valley from this virus.”

At present B.C. is still in Phase 2 and the guidelines instruct people to stay close to home and avoid any travel between communities that is not essential.​ Some businesses are slowly re-opening with enhanced protocols in place.

Dr. Bonnie Henry has said that, if transmission rates remain low B.C. will enter Phase 3 of its Restart Plan in June which includes travel within B.C. and the reopening of hotels, select entertainment, and parks to include overnight camping. Phase 4, which essentially sees life return to “normal,” will not proceed until there is wide vaccination, community immunity or broad successful treatments.

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice has stated that she understands this is an “extremely challenging” situation.

“I know that there are different views about the checkpoint coming into the Valley, and what is considered essential or non-essential travel. This pandemic is an unprecedented situation and our communities are navigating it for the first time,” said Rice. “While there have been some disagreements, I’ve been impressed by the generally constructive and patient approach with which people in and around Bella Coola have dealt with this extremely challenging health crisis.

“While we are looking ahead to a time when more travel within B.C. will be safe, Dr. Bonnie Henry is still asking that people avoid non-essential travel between communities. We are still in Phase 2 of our Restart Plan, and everyone all around B.C. should still be avoiding travel and staying close to home as much as possible. As Phase 2 goes on, Dr. Henry will be evaluating the directives we have on non-essential travel within the province, and looking at when it might be safe to have more travel within B.C.”

In a separate Facebook post local doctor Jeff Peimer attributed the checkpoint and the self-isolation measures as one of the reasons the valley has remained COVID-free so far.

“We haven’t had a single COVID case in the valley and that’s probably only due to social isolation and the road block,” Peimer’s post read.

Tom Hermance, president of Bella Coola Valley Tourism, said that it has been a difficult time for its members.

“Unfortunately, tourism operators are finding this summer quite difficult. This is the time of year we build up savings to get us through the winter and spring, so it is a real sacrifice to remain closed,” Hermance said. “Ideally, I’d like to see a limited, late summer/early fall tourism season but so much depends on events on the ground, both provincially and locally.

“We won’t know more until further decisions are made. The bottom line is we all want to do what’s best for the valley and to make it though to next year. The directors of BCVT are also working with the Nuxalk EOC to come up with new safety measures and we should have a co-ordinated message within the next few weeks.”

Hermance also said that, strangely enough, Bella Coola is becoming more and more desirable to visit even though their advertising has come to a complete stop.

“Interest in this area is at an all time high as people from all over are contacting us through emails and social media requests,” said Hermance. “When the valley does re-open, I can confidently say that higher prices shouldn’t deter those who have this area on their radar.”

The CCRD was contacted for comment but as of press time did not respond.

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