Reduced air traffic into Paulatuk has helped ease anxiety in the community over the COVID-19 pandemic, but residents are still not taking any chances.
“Generally people are pretty relaxed, everybody’s keeping an eye on incoming traffic,” said Mayor Raymond Reuben. “I think Aklak Air made the right decision. Obviously there wouldn’t have been the need for that many flights.
“We’ve worked with our different organizations, contractors and outfitters and asked them to co-operate in our efforts to control traffic. So after this week I think it will be pretty much stalled until we get better news out there.”
Ruben noted while people were comfortable with their neighbours there was a bit of alarm around the area if someone from outside the community came in unannounced.
“There’s still a bit of uneasiness around town. Recently, somehow we had some NorthwestTel workers get in and people picked up on it right away,” he said. “They were calling in and asking who these people are and what are they doing. So we do have people who are keeping an eye out and noticing things.”
Within the community there is a strong awareness of keeping each other healthy. Ruben said the streets were quiet and when people are out in public they are keeping a good social distance from each other and staying in if not feeling well.
Ruben himself was in self-isolation just as a precaution from a raspy throat. He noted it is impossible to be too careful at times like these.
Less flights coming in means that small things like mail coming in on time are a possibility, but the mayor did not see a noticeable drop in services at the time — though a few modifications to office procedures were in effect.
“We’ve change a few minor things, like we’ve locked the public doors where the mail is, between the office areas and the public areas,” he said. “Normally we never would do that, but it’s for the safety of our staff and the public. A couple of our local outlets have put in marks on the floor using the six feet idea to keep people apart. Northern store put in hours for the elders to shop from 10 to 11:30 a.m., and they’ve marked down for elders and those with poor health.”
He added he’s been assured the Northern Store has enough stock to last the community for two weeks if supply lines broke down, but a lot of community members were harvesting off the land to cover their sustenance as well.
“We’ve got caribou all year round, you’ve just got to go out and find them,” said Ruben. “We’ve got Muskox and we picked up an idea from another community, harvesting Ptarmigan for some of the elders, so food is not an immediate concern. Some of the programs from the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and from Jordan’s Principle provided a lot of money for children and the elders to support them for the next little while.”
He noted the hamlet was holding off on making any large contingency investments off the bat since officials are predicting the pandemic could potentially last months.
“We’re thinking in the long term, if this persists and continues for months we’re going to have to keep finding ways to maintain our level of support to the community,” he said. “So we’re not going to jump and use everything right now when maybe it’s not necessary. Somewhere down the line, there may be a call for more support.”
Ruben added the longer days were helping people stay occupied while socially distance, particularly kids out of school, who have been able to take advantage of long days in the snow.
“We’re lucky we’re not in November or December with no daylight. If it was then, we would be struggling to keep them active and out of mischief,” he said. “It’s not overly cold — we have a fishing program through our justice committee that’s happening on a daily basis. People are invited to bring their families out to a lake and spend the day fishing and hopefully bringing home something.
“And we will be organizing a community hunt, much like the other communities.”
Ruben said at the current point, so long as the community could keep the virus out, it would probably be okay. He noted there was only the able to take a maximum five samples for test.
“It’s a struggle to keep the traffic out, there’s always a reason somebody has to come in, like a doctor or whatever it is,” he said. “Like today we’re getting a group of four from the health department who are going to be fitting our health staff with masks to prepare them in the event of a case coming in.”
He said there was constant communication happening between the Hamlet, the local hunter trappers committee and the RCMP, and added the important thing people needed to remember was to listen to the doctors.
“We have to have faith in our health department that they’re doing all that they can to protect our people.”