So many people phoned in as possible contacts of MLA Steve Norn after the April 23 press conference revealing his Covid-19 infection, public health officials decided to re-interview him.
It was a revealing conversation, according to registered nurse Stephanie Gilbert.
Gilbert (who has no relation to the author) leads the team that performs the contact tracing that takes place in Covid-19 investigations in the Yellowknife area. She testified on day three of a hearing into a complaint made against Norn by his fellow MLAs. They have accused Norn of violating the MLA code of conduct by breaching his self-isolation protocol after a trip to Grande Prairie, Alta. and misleading them about it.
She said a number of people called public health to report themselves as potential contacts saying they had either been called or texted by Norn directly or had seen the April 23 press conference, prompting a “lengthy” conference call with Gilbert, an epidemiologist (an expert in disease behaviour) named Dr. Julie Miller and another public health worker on April 22.
Gilbert referred to a document called an “investigation form” that contains the information collected during contact tracing, an exercise she’s helped to carry out at least 600 times since the advent of the pandemic. She said it had an unusal amount of colour-coded text in order to keep straight the information which had come from different sources.
“We don’t typically do that,” she said. “(It was) much longer, more complicated and certainly, at times, stressful and difficult (than most investigations). I usually do a case investigation or one of my staff typically does one within an hour. So to spend several days and multiple resources interviewing someone stands out for us.”
For example, she noted a passage was in blue because it referred to something that happened and which Norn didn’t tell them about but was reported by someone else. Another in green represented notes made by Miller, the epidemiologist, during their follow-up interview, which lasted more than two hours.
Much of the day’s testimony focused on an April 8 visit by Norn’s daughter at his home. The girl was in the front passenger seat of a car driven by her mother. According to Gilbert, Norn initially told her that he had a “contactless” visit with his daughter through the window of the car.
The girl’s mother had testified earlier in the day that her daughter and Norn kissed through the door’s open window. Gilbert said Norn admitted to her after further questioning that he “might have hugged her and might have kissed her.”
At the time, both Norn and his daughter were supposed to be isolating per orders from the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer. Norn’s isolation period after a visit to Alberta was to last from April 4 to April 18; his daughter returned from a separate out-of-territory trip that day, April 8.
Her mother told the hearing she understood the rules when she drove her daughter for a visit with her dad.
“I knew what I was in for.”
The legislature and the gym
Gilbert said Norn did not tell her that he entered the NWT legislature April 17. He disclosed the visit with his daughter during a follow-up interview April 22 while Gilbert was questioning him about “realtor activity” in the unit he was living in at the time.
She said he first told her that he spent April 18 at home, but she pressed Norn on a visit to the Raquet Club after the OCPHO directed her to clarify the timeline. He first told her he had gone to the gym, but on April 19, a day after his isolation period would have ended.
But in the conference call with the epidemiologist, he admitted he had gone to the Raquet Club April 18. So that went in the record in green.
Gilbert also said Norn claimed a visit to a friend to drop off a package, and that he did this in a contactless manner.
But she called public health with a “very” specific description of the visit, that it took place April 18 at 2 p.m. and that “it maybe was not totally contactless.
“For most of the time, they were an appropriate distance apart, but for a time they stood close enough to exchange the package and to talk,” Gilbert said the friend told her.
Norn’s lawyer, Steven Cooper drilled down on exactly who wrote the notes in the investigation report, and asked Gilbert where another person had made an entry whether she had asked that individual whether their notes were accurate. In each instance, she said “no.”
He pressed her to explain why Norn’s investigation was more complicated than others. She said Norn did not share information unless specifically asked about it. Pressed further to be specific about what Norn failed to reveal, she said he gave the wrong date for his visit to the Raquet Club – April 19. She said it was the OCPHO that established Norn was there April 18 with “video evidence.”
“They asked me to question Mr. Norn about it,” she said. “A day doesn’t sound relevant to most situations, but when you’re talking about a deadly disease and exposure within a building and we don’t know whether it’s the 18th or 19th, that affects the people who were in the building greatly. Not being sure whether they’ve been exposed to Covid, that is important.”
Likewise, Gilbert said her team received a call from acting clerk Glenn Rutland at the Legislative Assembly April 23 asking why they hadn’t received an exposure notification after Norn’s visit to the building April 17. The visit was depicted in security footage entered as evidence in the hearing Oct. 5 during the testimony of security officer Robert Braine.
She said this caused her team to have to re-interview Norn about the visit.
“Every contact that is out there that doesn’t know they were exposed has the potential to then expose others,” Gilbert said. “So, if somebody isn’t able to give us an accurate story, an accurate account of their activities, it puts others at risk.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that the Board of Management made the complaint against MLA Steve Norn. It was in fact the full caucus of MLAs.