A roadblock was set up on the only road into Fort Resolution on the day it became known that a COVID-19 case had been confirmed in an officially-unidentified “small community” in the NWT. It quickly spread on Facebook that the community is Fort Resolution.
Photo by Deninu Ku’e First Nation/Facebook

The South Slave has its first case of COVID-19.

A case has been confirmed in Fort Resolution, although all the GNWT will officially say is the case is in a “small community” in the territory.

A number of people in Fort Resolution, including Chief Louis Balsillie of Deninu Ku’e First Nation, spoke about the case on Facebook. And the disease’s presence in the community was also confirmed in a Facebook posting by Tu Nedhe-Wiliideh MLA Steve Norn.

The case and another in Yellowknife were announced on April 2.

Later that day, a checkpoint was set up on the lone road leading into Fort Resolution.

The GNWT held a news conference on April 4 to talk about the two new cases, which brought the total number of cases in the NWT to four as of that day.

Dr. Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer, was asked what the case in the “small community” means for Hay River.

Kandola advised residents of Hay River to practise preventative measures, such as social distancing, not having mass gatherings, staying in their homes and washing their hands.

When asked if Hay River would be identified if a COVID-19 case is discovered in the community, she responded, “Hay River has a sufficient amount of population where we can safely locate a COVID case to Hay River without compromising their safety.”

Kandola explained why small communities will not be identified.

“First, it should make no difference in our response,” she said.

“The second is that we’ve seen around the world and in our own country examples of how when you made it easy to identify people with diseases they were abused, shunned and threatened, and sometimes so are their families,” she added. “We’ve seen it for decades related to tuberculosis outbreaks in the Arctic. We’ve seen it in Flin Flon, Manitoba, with recent COVID-19 cases. We saw it this week in our own community in the response to the latest cases. And we’ve seen it in countless other public health crises around the world from HIV to Ebola.”

Premier Caroline Cochrane supported that stance.

“I also know that people are concerned to know if COVID-19 is in your community,” she said. “I hear that concern and I respect it, but I want to assure all residents whatever community you live in that the Government of the Northwest Territories is doing everything possible to protect you from COVID-19. Knowing what communities COVID-19 is in would not make you safer. What makes you safer is respecting the orders of the chief public health officer.”

Kandola noted an exception to the non-identification rule for small communities.

“If we can’t confidentially say we’ve tracked down everyone the case came into close contact with, we will reveal locations and dates publicly,” she said.

In an April 2 news release, the GNWT stated the case in the unidentified Fort Resolution is connected to travel elsewhere in Canada, and the person returned to the community on March 22.

“They immediately self-isolated in their home and submitted a self-isolation plan,” the release stated, using ‘they’ and ‘their’ to refer to an individual. “The manner by which they were able to return to a small community and not a designated isolation centre is being investigated.”

The individual developed symptoms on March 26, and was in hospital in Yellowknife as of April 4.

“Investigation of contacts is ongoing, but is expected to be minimal,” the April 2 release stated.

The GNWT said the new case in Yellowknife is related to international travel.

“Thus far, our investigation determines the individual travelled back after a trip through Europe to Yellowknife on March 20 and voluntarily self-isolated,” the release stated, adding the person developed symptoms five days later and was tested soon after.

The individual is recovering at home.

Investigation of contacts is ongoing, but the number is expected to be minimal.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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