In so many Northern communities, living together means living close with one another — coming together in song and dance; coming together to eat and laugh; coming together to grieve and pray.
In the wake of COVID-19, these cultural cornerstones have been ground to halt as a resident practice social distancing and self-isolation in a bid to block the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Residents in Fort Resolution are doing the same. But it’s taking time to adjust to what Hamlet Mayor Patrick Simon calls a “new normal.”
“It was like an overnight shift,” he said. “It is not in our culture not to socialize with one another,” said Simon.
People are used to going out and meeting with friends; to have social gatherings. Now, said Simon, they’re being told to stay at home as much as they can, unless they need to make trips for essential groceries or services.
For some in the community, the concept can be hard to understand — they’re fighting an invisible threat.
“If this was a forest fire, we’d band and fight it or evacuate. This is different: we can’t see it.”
By and large, however, Simon said the need to practice social distancing is getting through to community members: stores are placing tape on shop floors to direct shoppers to keep at least two metres away from one another, and customers are adhering to the new guidelines.
Simon said she’s also seeing acts of kindness and generosity in the hamlet. Residents are bringing groceries and water to Elders — plus the latest need-to-know information about COVID-19. He said friends and family are staying connected from afar over the phone and Facebook.
Some hamlet residents, he said, are making their own handmade protective masks. While they may not be as helpful as surgical masks, Simon said the act of creating the makeshift masks is about something more — regaining a sense of control in uncertain times.
“There’s a lot of stress and unknowns,” said Simon, adding people are being bombarbarded by news COVID-19 from the south, when there’s little localized information being disseminated in the small South Slave community.
Like other leaders in small Northern communities, Simon is worried about the impact of COVID-19 on Fort Resolutions’ health care system in the event of an outbreak.
“I don’t think they have the capacity to handle it, so they’ll have to either bring it in to assist them in that way,” said Simon.
“The current health centre wouldn’t be equipped I don’t think if we get to a point where we have cases. That’s my opinion, some many think otherwise.”
In the meantime, businesses and services are being subjected to strict sanitizing protocols, and Simon said he and Deninu Kųę́ First Nation are continuing to hammer home health safety measures. “wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands.”
“This thing is not a question of when, it’s a question of slowing the spread, slowing the rise, and flattening the curve to get to a period where it starts to go down and we do it by staying at home as much as we can,” said Simon.
“As long as we do that we should be able to slow down the rise and flatten the curve.”