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COMMUNITY REPORT: Norman Wells enjoys warming weather but stays socially distant

Lli Goline from the air, where a mysterious spike in the price of gasoline reversed itself within a few days. NNSL file photo

Residents of Norman Wells are enjoying the warming temperatures even as the Sahtu town continues to hunker down in accord with pandemic-related restrictions.

"I think the good weather, the sunny weather is moving people to get outside and do a little more," Mayor Frank Pope said Wednesday.

"Some people are getting out and taking walks with their dogs and going for skidoo rides out in the bush."

Imperial Oil's flare stack in Norman Wells, where the warming spring weather is allowing residents to do more outdoor activities, says mayor Frank Pope. NNSL file photo

The weather has permitted Norman Wells to put on a birthday parade, an event trend also recently seen in Hay River. 

RELATED REPORTING: Birthday parades begin in Hay River

"They had a parade last weekend for a kid’s birthday. They (also) had a parade with fire trucks and everyone stayed in their own vehicles. They rode behind the fire trucks and waved at each other," Pope said.

Quiet with social distancing

But the town remains almost as quiet as it was in late March when Pope first gave an overview of the situation to NNSL.

RELATED REPORTING: COMMUNITY REPORT: Norman Wells residents self-isolating, well-supplied for now

Most people stay close to home and mainly go outside to do errands like collecting mail or grocery shopping.

"Most of the time you only see one person downtown. Once in a while you see a couple go for a walk and they’re keeping their distance," Pope said. 

"I went to the store today and went to get my mail and there were only two people in the Northern Store. My wife went into the other store. We’ll go to separate stores if we need things."  

Pope acknowledged that there have been a few instances of house parties taking place in the town, and noted that the chief public health officer had banned all social gatherings in an order last Friday.

However, he said "(the parties) seem to be dropping off. I think people are listening to the rules."

The ice road that connects Norman Wells with Tulita to the south and Fort Good Hope to the north is closed to vehicles but still open to snowmobiles, and the stores have enough supplies for four months. The first barge comes up the Mackenzie River at the end of June, the mayor said.

The stores have been chartering twice-weekly flights with Summit Air and Buffalo Airways which deliver produce, meat and other food items. The flights used to come seven days a week.

The transient work population of the Imperial Oil camps has posed no problems for Norman Wells because the labourers have little interaction with residents.

"From all observations they’re very good. They come in on chartered flights. They go to camp, go to work, go back to camp. They don't come into town. There’s been a good response from the contractors on that and they’re following the regulations."

Similarly with visitors from outside the NWT, Pope said there has been no need to introduce temperature checks at the airport because those people have already undergone their 14-day self-isolation periods in Yellowknife. 

"We hope people continue to do what they’re supposed to do and enjoy the weather, but stay separated from each and other and just go to course."

'Violent offenders' no longer in community

Pope addressed a report from early April in which he said there might have been two suspected criminals recently released from detention who were spending time in Norman Wells.

RELATED REPORTING: COMMUNITY REPORT: Violent offenders could be roaming Norman Wells, mayor says

"We’ve been told that that has not happened. Those people came through the community and moved on. It’s under control," he said. 

On the possibility that offenders could have been freed from detention as part of the Corrections Service's temporary release measure to reduce the health risks of coronavirus in jails, the GNWT told NNSL Media in an email that only low risk inmates would be considered.

RELATED REPORTING: COVID-19: Temporary release for some low-risk inmates at NWT jails

"Only those inmates who do not pose a public risk are being considered for release as part of this process. This effort has resulted in eight sentenced inmates with up to three months remaining on their sentence to date having been granted temporary absences," a GNWT spokesperson said.