COVID-19 Information for BC First Nations Individuals


Page last updated April 3​, 2020. On this page:

FNHA Video Messages and Podcasts

COVID-19: What You Need to Know

Protective Measures 

Travel and Events



Mental Health


FNHA Video Messages and Podcasts

Video: A Message about COVID-1​9​​


Podcast (April 1, 2020): FNHA Interim CEO Richard Jock

​​Topics: FNHA moves to Level 3 state of readiness | “What happens to communities happens to us” | First batch of personal protective equipment delivered to communities

Podcast​ (March 25, 2020): FNHA Senior Medical Officer Dr. Nel Wie​​man

​Topics: Act like you already have the virus | Prevention tips | Cultural events | Mental health
Podcast​ (March 24, 2020): FNHA Senior Medical Officer Dr. Nel Wie​​man 

Topics: Mental health challenges during isolation | Resources accessible at home | Coping exercise

Podcast (March 17, 2020)​: FNHA Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Shannon McDonald and Chief Operations Lead Sonia Isaac-Mann

​Topics: Latest information on the COVID-19 outbreak | Taking care of your family and community members | Finding trustworthy and up-to-date information

COVID-19 – What Yo​​u Need to Know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to other respiratory illnesses, including the flu and common cold. They may include coughing, fever, sore throat and difficulty breathing.

How is COVID-19 spread? 

Coronavirus is transmitted via larger liquid droplets when a person coughs or sneezes. The virus can enter via these droplets through the eyes, nose or throat if you are in close contact. You can also infect yourself by touching your eyes, nose and mouth as the virus may be present on your hands.

By following good respiratory hygiene you protect the people around you from viruses such as cold, flu and COVID-19.

Who is most at risk?

Elders and people with chronic health or respiratory conditions are most at risk of becoming very ill if they contract COVID-19 and possibly dying.

Is there a vaccine?
No. It can take years to develop a vaccine for a new disease and to produce enough for populations.

If you are in close contact, the virus can enter your body via these droplets through your eyes, nose or throat.

Have COVID-19 Symptoms? ​Call 8-1-1 Poster (FNHA poster)​​​

Protective measures again​​st COVID-19

What can I do to prevent infection?

The most important thing you can do to prevent infection is to wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Using soap and water is the single most effective way of reducing the spread of infection. If a sink is not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands as long as they are not visibly soiled. If hands are visibly soiled, use a wipe and then an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean them.​

Everyone should take the following steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

* Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly
* Avoid touching your face
* Cough or sneeze into a tissue or into your elbow
Practice social distancing by staying two metres (6 feet) away from other people
* Forgo social greetings such as handshakes, hugs and kisses
Avoid all social gatherings 
* Avoid all non-essential travel 

Also, self-isolate (stay at home and don’t go to work or school) for 14  days if:
* you are infected or think you may be
* you have been in close contact with someone who is now infected
* someone in your household is infected
* you have recently returned from travel outside of Canada, including the U.S.

General protection against COVID-19​ (FNHA poster)​

Cleaning your Phone​ (FNHA poster)​

Washing your Hands (FNHA poster)

Do Not Enter Warning Sign​ (FNHA warning sign for health care facilities)​

Do Not Enter Warning Sign​​ (FNHA warning sign for homes)​

Harm Reductio​n and ​Overdose Respon​se for COVID-19​ (BCCDC info sheet)​​​

​Can I still wash my hands if my community has a boil water advisory?

Yes, it's safe to wash your hands with soap if you are living in a community with a Boil Water Advisory (BWA) or a Do Not Consume (DNC) advisory. However, if you are living with a Do Not Use (DNU) advisory you should wash with bottled water. (See the FNHA Drinking Water Advisories page.) 

What can I use to disinfect and kill germs? 

Regular household cleaners are effective for removing germs. You may also use a solution of one part bleach mixed with nine parts water to disinfect areas that are touched often such as counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets and bedside tables. If you have COVID-19, it is important to use bleach to disinfect, especially if you are sharing any common areas (such as a bathroom) with others or if others will be entering the room where you are staying.

Is vinegar mixed with water an effective disinfectant?

Probably not. Vinegar is an acetic acid and, although acids will inactivate viruses, a vinegar/water mixture is quite weak and the pH is probably not low enough.

What should I do if I have to cough or sneeze?

Cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately. This is called good respiratory hygiene. 

What is the best way to protect myself, my loved ones and my community during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The FNHA recommends social distancing, forgoing usual greetings (such as handshakes, hugs, kisses etc.), avoiding all social gatherings over 50 people, and staying home if you are experiencing any signs of illness, even if they are mild symptoms.

If you are coughing or sneezing, always cover your mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue. Throw the tissue into a closed bin immediately after use. Clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or with soap and warm water after you cough or sneeze. Do the same when you are caring for a loved one that is sick.

What is physical distancing? 

Physical distancing means protecting our personal space. The current recommendation is to stay at least two metres (six feet) away from other people. This means that we do not use usual greetings, such as handshakes, hugs and kisses. Safe greetings include a wave, a nod, or a bow.​

Why is physical distancing important?

When someone coughs or sneezes, they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain the virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease. Avoiding physical contact while greeting friends, family and community members helps to prevent COVID-19 from spreading to the people we care about.​

Due to the unprecedented risk presented by COVID-19, physical distancing is essential to prevent the spread of COVID-19. All of us must take responsibility to care for each other by keeping our physical distance.

Physical Distancing​ Do's and Don'ts​​ (FNHA poster)

How Physical Distancing​ Works (FNHA infographic)​​

Travel ​​and Events

Should I still attend events and/or travel within BC?

No, you should not. With the increasing evidence about the rapid spread of COVID-19 in British Columbia, and on the advice of public health physicians, the FNHA strongly recommends against any non-essential travel. The FNHA also recommends against attendance at any events or social gatherings.  For more information, read the FNHA advisory page. 

Why should I avoid public gatherings?

Attending even small gatherings increases the risk of exposure to COVID-19. This increases the chance of participants becoming infected and carrying the virus into their communities and passing it on to vulnerable friends and family, particularly Elders and people with existing health conditions.

We understand people will be disappointed at the postponement of events and travel plans but our common priority now is to slow the spread of the disease, contain the chain of transmission, and protect our most vulnerable family and community members.

Is it safe to participate in cultural gatherings (e.g., sweat lodges, potlatches, ceremonies and other gatherings)?

The FNHA acknowledges the significance of cultural gatherings in our communities and the lingering negative memories and trauma caused by the banning of cultural activities in the past. 

It is no longer safe to participate in cultural gatherings due the rapid spread of COVID-19 in BC. The FNHA recommends the immediate cancellation or postponement of all cultural events. 

As an alternative, you could modify your cultural practice or ceremony to ensure physical distancing of at least two metres (six feet). You could also conduct ceremonies with only family members who live in the same household (and have a larger event later), or consider an alternative such as a FaceTime event.

The FNHA advises that you temporarily suspend traditional practices like sweat lodges and pipe ceremonies. Doing a sweat and being near others who are sweating could easily lead to transmission of the virus to others. And there is a strong likelihood during a pipe ceremony of transmitting the virus via saliva when the pipe is passed from one person to the next.  

For more information, read the FNHA advisory page.

If community members are travelling, how do we know that they aren’t bringing the virus back?

Community members should seek to minimize interaction with other people and practice physical distancing, including while travelling, even though this can be difficult. The FNHA recommends that all travel be assessed to determine if it is truly essential. Postponing events and travel whenever possible will support individual and community health and minimize the spread of the virus. When travelling, people need to be extra diligent with preventative practices such as hand washing often, using hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available, and avoiding touching the face.

COVID-19 and community gatherings​ (FNHA video on YouTube)


What is self-isolation?

Self-isolation means staying at home and not going to work or school. It also means monitoring yourself for symptoms for 14 days.

How long do I need to be in self-isolation?

If you have no symptoms but may have been exposed to the virus, you need to self-isolate for 14 days from the date of possible exposure.

If you are experiencing symptoms, you need to self-isolate for at least 10 days from the date of the onset of symptoms. If you are still having symptoms at 10 days, continue self-isolation until you are symptom-free. Coughing may persist for several weeks, so a cough alone does not mean you need to continue to self-isolate beyond 10 days.​

I am infected and I live with other people. How do I self-isolate?

Stay and sleep in a room with good airflow that is away from others. Use a separate bathroom if you can. Wear a facemask (surgical/procedure mask) if you are in the same room with anyone and avoid face-to-face contact. Do not share towels or face cloths. Friends and family can drop off food outside your room or home. If you live with an Elder or someone with a chronic health condition, it would be best if those people could stay in the home of other family or friends in the community.  ​

What happens if someone in my community is infected? 

If someone in the community is infected, they must self-isolate. People who were in close contact with that person (i.e. people living in the same household) should also self-isolate for 14 days.

What happens if one person in my household is infected but no one else has symptoms?

The whole household must self-isolate for 14 days to prevent the spread of the virus to anyone outside of your household.

Coping with COVID-19​​ (FNHA video on YouTube)

How do I get tested for COVID-19?

Testing is available for all who need it but not everyone needs a test.  If you have no symptoms or mild symptoms you do not require a test. If symptoms appear, call your health care provider or 
8-1-1 for guidance. 

You can use this easy self​-assessment tool​ from the BC provincial government to help determine whether you or a loved one need further assessment or testing for COVID-19.​

Are there COVID-19 test kits that First Nations can​ access?

COVID-19 is tested using a standard swab (long Q-tip that scrapes cells from the very back of the nose or throat). These swabs are then sent to a laboratory for testing. The tests are available where influenza testing is being done. Call your health care provider or 8-1-1 for guidance. Not all people with respiratory symptoms need to be tested for COVID-19. If people develop respiratory symptoms, they should self-isolate, regardless of the availability of testing.

What are the next steps if I am infected or think that I may be infected or if I've been around someone who is infected?

* Ensure that you self-isolate immediately and avoid contact with others. This means staying away from others as much as possible. 

* Wash your hands or use alcohol-based sanitizer frequently. 

* Use good hygiene practices such as coughing or sneezing into a disposable tissue or into your elbow. 

* Clean high-touch areas such as toilets, bedside tables and door handles with diluted bleach (one-part bleach to nine parts water) or a household disinfectant.

​* If you are experiencing symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, fever, sore throat and difficulty breathing, contact your healthcare provider or call 8-1-1 for guidance. If your symptoms are severe, such as shortness of breath or chest pain, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest Emergency Department

​* If your symptoms are severe, such as shortness of breath or chest pain, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest Emergency Department 

* Call ahead before you get medical care. By calling ahead, you help the clinic, hospital, lab, urgent care or doctor's office prepare for your visit and stop the spread of germs. 

Mental Health a​​nd Wellness

If you are feeling anxious about COVID-19, you’re not alone. It’s normal to worry. You may even find that it triggers symptoms of trauma. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – from family, friends, or health providers. There are also many mental wellness and cultural supports available to you. 

Mental wellness and cultural supports available during the pandemic​ (FNHA info sheet)​​


Should I buy toilet paper?

You should stock your household with essential supplies in case you are asked to self-isolate for 14 days. However, it's not necessary to stockpile large quantities of toilet paper or any other supplies. This only creates supply issues for everyone.

If it’s not toilet paper, don’t flush it!​​​ (FNHA information page)

Will a mask help? 

Masks should be used by sick people to prevent transmission to other people. A mask will help keep a person's droplets in. It is less effective to wear a mask in the community when a person is not sick themselves. Masks may give a person a false sense of security and are likely to increase the number of times a person will touch their own face (e.g., to adjust the mask). Health-care workers will wear surgical masks, eye protection and gowns in order to protect themselves and their patients.

Can the virus live on clothes?

Yes, the virus can survive on porous surfaces such as skin and cloth as well as other materials and surfaces for hours to days, depending on the surface. Regular washing is recommended.

What is the risk for infants?

Recent evidence does not indicate a large risk for infants – very few children under five showed serious illness from COVID-19. There has been a positive case detected, however, so they are not immune.

What are the risks for pregnant women?

It is too early to determine the level of risk posed to pregnant women. COVID-19 is a new virus and information is limited. Due to the physical changes women experience during pregnancy, this may be a time when pregnant women are more likely get a virus and, if so, the symptoms may be worse than if they were not pregnant.  If you are pregnant and have symptoms, please call your prenatal care provider, self-isolate, and if needed, go to the nearest hospital.

Can my pets get COVID-19 or be a carrier?

There is currently no evidence that domestic animals like pets can become sick with COVID-19 or can spread the virus to people.​

Are First Nations Treatment Centres still operating?

Some treatment centres may be open but most are closed. Please telephone the treatment centre directly for details. Most treatment centres are working towards providing outreach services by phone to previous clients, as well as responding to requests for support when received. Telephone-based Health and Cultural Support is also available through these two organizations:
* Indian Residential School Survivors Society: 604-985-4465 or toll free 1-800-721-0066

* Tsow-Tun-Le-Lum: 1-250-268-2463​ or toll free 1-888-590-3123​​

Do people who smoke/vape have a higher chance of developing severe complications if they become infected with COVID-19

Read our FAQs here​.

What is FNHA's policy around privacy during the pandemic?

FNHA and privacy (FNHA privacy statement)

 Public Health Warning

If you think that you have been exposed to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) or are experiencing symptoms, please conta​​ct your primary care provider or local public health office or call 8-1-1.​

 Public Health Information

​​COVID-​19​ (BC Centre for Disease Control public health information website)

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) (HealthLink BC website)

Coronavirus info line: 1-833-784-4397​ (Public Health Agency of Canada)​​

Your Pharmacist Can Help (BC Pharmacy A​ssociation​)