NWT residents submitting self-isolation plans are effectively on the honour system to comply with public health orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but many of the allegations submitted to the “ProtectNWT” complaint lines are turning out false, says the NWT’s chief public health officer.
During an April 4 press conference, Kami Kandola said small communities are close enough that residents should be able to recognize when neighbours are not complying with self-isolation orders.
However, she conceded that many of the reports coming through the ProtectNWT@gov.nt.ca report line were unfounded allegations.
“We’ve received over 100 complaints that we’ve investigated,” she said. “In NWT we’re small enough that people know who’s travelled out, so there’s a mechanism for people to let us know when people are not being in compliance with a self-isolation order.
“Some of them have been allegations that someone hasn’t been compliant or allegations of parties at designated self-isolation sites. When we pulled Public Officers and investigated, they found the allegations were unfounded. There’s a combination of valid reports and unfounded allegations. So there’s a responsibility to self-isolate, but if you are going to submit a complaint we are going to need to be able to track you down and make sure it was a founded allegation.”
Residents who return to the NWT from outside the territory are required to submit a self-isolation plan to the government and quarantine for 14 days. However, Director of Public Safety Ivan Russell said there was little monitoring of whether people are actually following the self-isolation plan unless the territory gets a complaint.
“It is called self-isolation because we expect people to be responsible enough to do what is required of them,” he said. “I am not aware of any blatant issues with that, the vast majority of people are very compliant. So we don’t monitor them 24/7.
“All the folks who come to us and identify as needing self-isolation lodging, we are aware that they require self-isolation. Those are the folks I am speaking of. I cannot speak to those who are self-isolating at home or in their communities or have been asked to by the medical community.”
Government officials held the press conference to ask the public to not panic after revelations that the NWT had two more cases of the virus, one in Yellowknife and the other in Fort Resolution. Kandola did not name Fort Resolution as the location of the second case; however Deninu Kue First Nation Chief Louis Balsillie revealed his community as the small community on his Facebook page.
Dr. Kandola said she sympathized with public concerns about not knowing who could be potentially infected, but noted as a doctor the Hippocratic Oath requires her to protect patient confidentiality.
She listed off a number of examples, including the measles and tuberculosis outbreaks in the NWT in recent years, where identified patients were victims of harassment or worse.
“People’s safety has to be protected. It’s a human rights issue,” said Kandola. “People shouldn’t be threatened, bullied or traumatized. They’re already struggling with acquiring a disease.
“The fallout of (being) unkind to people who have COVID-19 is there could be people who are suffering an influenza-like symptom, in the risk category, who will be afraid to come forward and quietly stay home and spread it to other people because of the fear of how we will react.
“If I can ask everyone to react with compassion, it will help other people come forward and protect us a lot better than how we are reacting right now.”
She said the best thing the public could do is follow her directives to limit the speed of spread of the virus.
“The important thing to remember about COVID-19 is that it could be everywhere,” said Kandola. “It doesn’t know village limits or boundaries. But there are steps everyone needs to take to keep each other safe. They work, and they have worked in small communities around the world.
“Keeping apart is the single best way to prevent the virus from spreading. That means not having get-togethers like funerals, feasts or parties for a while. It means making sure you are washing your hands as much as possible for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or with 60 per cent alcohol-based sanitizer. It means limiting the time you’re around others and when you are keeping at least six feet apart.
“If you all do this, you will keep your community safe. But it to work, we can’t just do it if we know there are cases in time, we have to get ahead of the game and do it all the time.”