Three days before Christmas, Robert Anderson found out there had been a case of Covid-19 at his workplace, Giant Mine.
Knowing that he had to self-isolate, he called the territory’s 8-1-1 Covid information line with what he thought was a simple question: Could he leave his house to go for a walk or a drive as long as he didn’t come into contact with anyone?
“I wanted to know if we were able to go out, not just sit in the house all the time,” Anderson says. “The girl said, ‘Well, I don’t know. I’ll ask my manager.’”
The operator eventually told him he would need to contact the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA) for an answer to his question.
“[The hotline] couldn’t even answer that question,” he says.
Anderson didn’t contact the NTHSSA. Instead, he reached out to his MLA, Katrina Nokleby, who was only able to supply him with an answer on Dec. 30.
By then, Anderson had received a negative rapid test on the eighth day of his isolation, meaning he was free to go. Although he could have left his house so long as he maintained social distancing, Anderson had spent his entire isolation period inside.
Nokleby, MLA for Great Slave, says many of her constituents informed her of their struggles to get Covid-related questions answered over the holidays.
“I find for myself, it’s confusing to answer constituents,” she says. “Why can’t 8-1-1 answer if they’re allowed to go for a walk? To me that seems like something they should know, considering it came up 10 months ago as a question. So it’s just very frustrating.”
Covid Secretariat spokesperson Richard Makohoniuk says ProtectNWT staff were only operating on reduced hours for three days during the holidays — service hours were reduced to between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Otherwise, the service was available between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
He says callers are only directed to Public Health, or to their healthcare provider, if they have detailed questions about their case.
The Covid Secretariat, which manages the 8-1-1 hotline, falls under the umbrella of the Department of Health and Social Services. The NTHSSA is a separate organization that is responsible for the delivery of health services in the territory.
“This seems to be sort of the communication mess we’re in, is that we have two departments handling this,” says Nokleby.