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Notes from the trail: A Yelp review of an isolation stay

Nancy Vail

I am at the tail end of a two-week isolation stay at a downtown Yellowknife hotel. What many of us know by now, two weeks in a hotel room is no walk in the park – even if it is a luxury hotel.

There is no doubt that most GNWT staff manning the isolation centres work hard to make the stay as positive as possible. However, there are times when relations between isolation guests and staff at the centres or the hotels can be tense – Covid-19 fatigue raises its ugly head in many ways.

Though most local residents do their best to comply with public health orders, which is why they file isolation plans and come here in the first place, those who enforce the rules are not always kind leaving participants to feel as though they are doing something wrong. Conversely, a few run-ins with some rowdy participants may have left some workers at the centres a little jaded, but isolation guests should not all be painted with the same brush. We are not too pleased, about being here ourselves. We are just trying to do our part. 

Many don't even try. 

Again, most staff are helpful toward all patrons remembering that isolation guests are guests, too. But some staff forget that strictly enforcing secluded stay in their rooms for two weeks making the two weeks more difficult than they need to be. 

There are no common areas in most of the hotels where guests can have quick time outs; find books, games, tea, or quickly greet others. If you are in the lobby for more than 10 or 15 minutes, you are asked to return to your room. The isolation is complete and often rigorously enforced. This makes it hard for the elderly, disabled and single moms.

Security guards take note of everyone's movements. They mark when you leave your room, ask where you are going and your time of return. It is all precautionary and partly why Covid-19 numbers have remained low. However, in some hotels, the isolation, away from family and home starts to feel like prison – Covid-19 confinement. 

Some people from the territories slip back undetected and head home without filing isolation plans thus running the risk of infecting others if they are carriers. When I was looking for a ride back last month, I was offered rides from people who were doing just that. But at the centres, by being here, people are making a statement about their willingness to be part of the solution.  

Meals are provided but it is often basic fare. The primary fruit source at one center is juice boxes, three times a day; with tiny lettuce salads for lunch and supper. The mainstay of their meals is white buns or bread. Fine dining is not the draw, compliance is. They say the diet is reviewed by a government dietician but that was probably early on but to me, doesn't seem to match up with the price tag for these stays, which run into the thousands and for many are still footed by the GNWT.

The point is that most guests in isolation are trying to do their bit, just like those who wear masks and get vaccines.  They choose isolation centres to meet public health standards and exercise their willingness to beat the virus. Yet they are not treated that way.  We are not Covid-19 criminals. We are NWT residents just like the workers. 

 It has been said many times that the second greatest health crisis we face now is mental health challenges especially as outbreaks and lockdowns drag on and on and on. And even here, at the isolation centres where enforcement is strict, many are on shaky ground with their mental health. A friend and a counsellor with the federal government has been calling for social workers and mental health professionals at the hubs for the last several months to help those who are not doing well. Domestic violence, violence, and drunken brawls happen and are handled by people without the training to de-escalate these situations.   

Again, for the most part, most of us are just doing our best to help. We are long term residents returning from medical leave, bereavement and other urgent family matters or essential workers trying to follow the rules. 

So if you work at the hotel; at the isolation centres, or in security, thank you for your service. It must be trying. But please remember – just like you, we are trying to do our part, too – just in a different way. We are not Covid-19 criminals. 

There are many places we would rather be, too.