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PANDEMIC PONDERER: Do we really need social distancing?

Over the past couple of weeks, its been downright pleasant compared to the previous two months when we were all in a severe state of Covid-19 lockdown.

The weather has become warmer, public health restrictions have eased, and we’re again enjoying backyard barbeques, drum dances and some of our favorite restaurants and public spaces.

It’s great to see people out and about again among family and friends. It’s encouraging to see some local businesses carefully reopening. However, I have noticed something that I’m pretty sure everyone else has noticed too.

There sure isn’t a lot of social distancing going on.

As we’ve progressed through increasingly relaxed phases of the GNWT’s “Emerging Wisely” plan, businesses have been permitted to reopen, outdoor gatherings and indoor events have increased in allowable size and people are returning to their places of work. All this has been permitted on the condition that strict social distancing measures are maintained. Yes, you can have up to 50 people gather outside, provided everyone stays two meters apart. Sure, go to the fitness center, but make sure you stay well away from anyone!

From what I can tell, it seems that most people are ignoring this directive. Yet, no Covid-19 cases are emerging. So I scratch my head and ask myself, as I am sure many others are doing:

Do we really need to be social distancing right now?

It could very well be that I’m missing something, but here’s what the authorities have told us:

  • It’s been over 10 weeks since we’ve had any active cases of Covid-19 in the territory.

  • Anyone entering the territory, including residents, must self-isolate for 14 days. If they do not display Covid-19 symptoms within those 14 days, there is almost no chance that they have the coronavirus.

  • Those few essential workers that are exempt from the above must comply with chief medical health officer-approved plans to limit any potential exposure.

Taken together, these facts and measures mean we’ve been doing a great job keeping the coronavirus out of the territory. Remember “flattening the curve”? We’ve never had a curve to begin with!

With no coronavirus in the territory, and little opportunity for it to come in, why are we supposed to behave like every next person in the NWT might be infected? From my perspective, it is making less and less sense.

Even if the occasional coronavirus carrier were able to slip through our strict border controls, we should have the capacity to contain any spread quickly with our underused rapid testing technology and our idle but ready contact tracing protocols. This would be the time to maintain these social distancing requirements, not at present when there is very little threat of community spread within the territory. We did a great job eliminating community spread at the beginning of this pandemic, and we should be even better prepared to do so going forward.

The NWT may be in the privileged position to considerably ease social distancing requirements for the time being. For those of us who are largely ignoring social distancing requirements already, this won’t mean all that much. But for a business struggling to reopen or a family gathering to pay respects to a loved one during their last days, this could make a world of difference.