Went ice fishing with the family on Sunday. No one who has been following me in the newspaper the past 20 years would be surprised about that, I’m sure.

I feel considerable relief, if any can be found while this horrible virus grips the planet, that being outdoors, whether it be ice fishing as we were last weekend, or having a weenie roast over an open fire, or skiing, snowshoeing or sledding over our endless and glorious winter trails, is still very safe.

It would be a terrible shame if the territory followed other areas of the world where skyrocketing infection rates have forced governments to demand their citizens stay inside at all costs. I imagine for the people in the communities it would be like asking them to quit breathing. It would be not much less of a horrifying prospect for townies, lifers and southern transplants alike, those who bristle at the sour, ungrasping queries of our city slicker acquaintances: “How can you stand the cold?”

Well, people who love the North love it because it truly is free and, as long as we can still head outside, free we remain. All those people in pictures from the weekend heading out for a walk while trying to maintain “social distance” (or not) in Vancouver’s Kitsilano Park or High Park in Toronto, striding nervously along boardwalks like skittery crabs fleeing the pounding surf – that’s not what I’d call freedom.

There has been some criticism of the incremental, daily ratcheting up of restrictions by our government. As much as I would loathe further impositions on our freedoms – and I expect many more will come before this crisis is over – I can’t fault the powers that be for doing so.

They are in an impossible position of trying to stop the spread while keeping supply chains open and critical people working to keep us safe. Ripping the Band-Aid off now, as one might say, and going full draconian in one fell swoop will produce unintended – and dire — consequences.

As Chief Public Health Officer Kami Kandola said Saturday, the day she announced the NWT’s first case of COVID-19, they can’t isolate the families of everybody entering the territory, otherwise “we could have one-third of NWT residents staying at home for no reason.”

So the best we can do is try and slow the spread as much as possible, and implement new measures as they’re required.

It is very important we take this COVID crisis very, very seriously. The devastation being wrought in countries like Italy, Iran and now some parts of the United States is a harbinger of the peril we face here in the Northwest Territories.

I feel fortunate in some ways to be facing the crisis here in the Northwest Territories and not in some larger centre down south. Our small population and vast isolation between communities ought to help catch the virus before it spreads too quickly.

But the lack of medical services and overcrowded housing in small communities makes them particularly vulnerable to COVID. Our isolation, while an asset in the fight against the disease, is also a vulnerability.

I’ll point to my own personal situation because many people here are in the same boat. My wife and I are at home with our two children – both under 10. Now that the NWT border is closed and access to extended family down south is restricted, we have no option but to stay healthy. Who will take care of our kids if we get sick?

So that’s why we all have to be vigilant and isolate from each other until we have beaten this thing. For all of us, for our Elders and our children.

That doesn’t mean we should all be sitting around like plump groundhogs waiting for our shadows to disappear. Our newsroom has self-isolated but we’re still working hard from our various quarters to keep you informed. It’s a royal pain but we’ll muddle our way through it, as must GNWT staff and other businesses and organizations working from home.

Of course, not everyone has this luxury. The police, doctors and nurses, the grocery store clerks and truck drivers. They’re putting it on the line to protect us and keep us fed.

We must do our part to protect them. Try to keep shopping to once a week and don’t linger, ALWAYS wash your hands, and stay home if you’re feeling sick.

Enjoy being outside but let’s stay away from each other for a while. We’ll all have a great big party once this is over. Peace and be safe.

Mike Bryant

Mike W. Bryant is the managing editor for NNSL Media. He started working for Northern News Services as a general news reporter in 1999. He is the recipient of numerous national and provincial journalism...

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