Nuu-chah-nulth residents of Washington state face health-care delays and empty streets amid the COVID-19 outbreak

Denise Titian, March 16, 2020

Ka:'yu:'k't'h'/Che:k'tles7et'h' patient Robert Belleque, who has a heart condition, is facing delays for a procedure as hospitals struggle with an exponential growth in coronavirus. (Submitted photo)

Seattle, Wash. — 

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has gotten a much larger foothold in Washington State than it has in British Columbia. 

According to Washington state governor Jay Inslee, as of Monday there are 873 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state with 48 deaths. Seattle has 488 of those cases and 43 of those deaths. Seattle, with its population of 725,000, has the highest number of Coronavirus cases in the state.

For Seattle resident Robert Belleque, who is a registered Ka:'yu:'k't'h'/Che:k'tles7et'h' First Nations member, the prevention measures being taken to contain the spread of the virus is taking a toll on his health.

In December 2019 Belleque, who suffers with diabetes and high blood pressure, began experiencing chest pains. A trip to the doctor revealed that he suffers from coronary artery disease. He was forced to wear a heart monitor for more than a month. 

The monitor showed that Belleque suffers from Afib, or atrial fibrillation, meaning he has a quivering or irregular heartbeat. Untreated, Afib can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. 

Belleque says he is supposed to have a procedure that will fix the problem but has to go through some prep work ahead of time – and he should try to avoid stress. 

“But I’ve been stressed about housing; I’ve been living in a motel since Jan. 27,” he said.

It is important that he takes care of his heart, so Belleque went ahead with a scheduled pre-op appointment at the University of Washington on March 11. 

“But I coughed. It was just one cough and they asked me how long I had that cough,” he said, adding that he told them it’s been about two years. “They had one mask left and they gave it to me.” 

The hospital staff directed Belleque home, telling him they would do the pre-op over the phone. 

“I dragged myself all the way there for this,” he said, adding that there were a lot of doors locked up at the facility as a crowd control measure to contain the spread of the corona virus. “I must have walked the equivalent of ten blocks all around the hospital to get to my ride…I was out of breath when he got there.”

Belleque was supposed to have his heart procedure on Monday, March 16, but wound up having a COVID-19 and flu test instead. The tests came back negative but Belleque said he was made to sit alone in room for about an hour. 

“No sitting in a lobby, I was in a room alone – masked,” he shared.

After all of that Belleque was informed by health care professionals that his procedure would be postponed for a minimum of 30 days due to the coronavirus outbreak. In the meantime, he is to avoid stress and was given an emergency number to call if he has any concerning heart issues. 

“I was told not to go to emergency but to call first – I could be dead while I’m calling,” he told Ha-Shilth-Sa. “But it’s understandable; I’m just stressed but I’m trying not to stress. I’ve got to let it go, let it work itself out.” 

Belleque says the corona virus outbreak has made Seattle a different-looking place. 

“There’s nobody at Pike Place Market, nobody hanging out at the park and there’s no traffic at all,” he said. “Everywhere I go it’s cleared out.”