Norman Wells is quieter than usual, with most residents staying home from school and work but people are doing well.
“A lot of people are really adhering to the emergency measures. People are coming into the stores but they’re in small groups. The kids are out snowmobiling even though it’s -25 here today,” Mayor Frank Pope told NNSL Media.
The Sahtu oil town of just under 800 people depends on the ice road for its supplies during the winter but it has enough food and necessities to last for four months until the next supply barge comes up the Mackenzie River.
“Nobody has said they’re short or running out. Both our stores are equipped with enough groceries and supplies. They’ve had no incidents of bulk buying. Their shelves are full and they have lots of toilet paper,” Pope said.
The community relies on rotational doctor visits but it has enough nurses in its Sahtú Got’iné Regional Health and Social Services Centre, where COVID-19 swab tests have been conducted. There are also nurses in the long-term care facility.
But the town isn’t worry-free, and Pope said that one thing weighing on the minds of residents is not being able to know through official channels if positive cases of coronavirus appear in Norman Wells.
When the NWT’s first – and so far only – case of COVID-19 was reported in Yellowknife on March 21, the Department of Health and Social Services stated that “the public is being notified of the community because the size of Yellowknife allows privacy to be sufficiently protected. In smaller communities, the public should not expect to be informed of the community.”
There is also concern among some residents about the potential spread of coronavirus from the transient workforce of Imperial Oil, even though they undergo health checks before they arrive.
“I know they’re being tested in Edmonton before they come and then they’re screened in Yellowknife before they come in so they’re being well taken care of,” Pope said.
A plan is in place to ensure the workers are separated farther from the town.
“They’re going to charter their workers in instead of on Canadian North. That way they’ll come in, they’ll go to camp, they’ll go to work and won’t be in the community at all,” said Pope. “They wont need to go through the terminal building. They’ll be isolated and doing their jobs.”
The town aims to step up safety measures at the airport, and the mayor said he recommended to Sahtu MLA Paulie Chinna on Monday that a health professional be stationed at the airport to check all visitors and take their temperatures.
“We’re also working to acquire some housing so people can find secure housing to isolate in peace and quiet alone. At least that way they can work from the home,” said Pope. “I believe the housing corporation is coming up with two or three houses and cots as well. They’re going to fly the cots in in the next couple of days.”