The territorial government is defending its social distancing measures on the heels of a letter from the NWT Medical Association calling current government guidelines “harmful.”
Dr. Andrew Kotaska, the association’s president, sent the communique to the Department of Health and Social Services and Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory’s chief public health officer.
CBC North published a copy of the six-page letter on Thursday, which it obtained from the association. In it, Kotaska outlines why the association feels it’s time for a “fresh look at the pandemic.”
The letter stated that while social distancing measures were “prudent insurance against community spread that might have resulted from an imported case,” doctors and the public are beginning to worry about the harm they are causing.
“With no Covid cases in the NWT for more than two months, it appears unnecessary for (social distancing restrictions) to continue in addition to self-isolation of the limited number of travellers entering the territory,” it said.
The letter also pointed out that within the last two months, more than 1,000 tests have come back negative due to entry restrictions and self-isolation; the NWT has ample testing ability for ongoing surveillance; the contact tracing program is well-resourced to react when the next imported case arrives and; health care facilities, including hospitals, have had time to source personal protective equipment (PPE) and establish protocols should a case arise.
The association’s letter follows a joint letter signed by several business and tourism organizations last month calling the GNWT’s response to phase two of Emerging Wisely – the document outlining the territorial government’s re-opening of operations – “woefully out of step with the private sector.”
Kotaska’s letter also included several examples of how harm has increased to residents due to restrictions put in place, including:
- negative impacts on physical and mental health;
- decreased access to social, emotional and group supports;
- increased levels of domestic violence;
- decreased quality of education and safe shelter for children in schools;
- increased substance abuse
And besides, Kotaska’s letter said, people aren’t exactly adhering to rules regarding distancing to begin with.
“As harm from social distancing restrictions within the territory mount, people are increasingly asking ‘What are we waiting for?'”the letter states. “Given the evidence, it is difficult to justify the ‘double protection’ of entry restrictions and social distancing.”
The association also provided several recommendations to the territorial government on how best to move forward, such as keeping travel restrictions in place; implementing the New Zealand model, which eliminated all distancing at restaurants, sporting events and businesses while maintaining the public health measures put in place during the pandemic, including hand-washing and telling sick people to stay at home; preparing the public for the next Covid-19 case with messaging that the territory is prepared and ready for it when, and if, it comes.
NNSL Media attempted to contact Kandola for comment on Kotaska’s letter but was directed to Mike Westwick, the manager of Covid-19 communications response with the Department of Health and Social Services.
“It’s important for everyone to understand that across Canada, hundreds of new cases are being reported each day – and we are very much connected to these jurisdictions,” he said in an e-mail response. “That means there is always risk for our territory, which will continue to shape our approach to protecting public health in the Northwest Territories.”
Westwick said the department is planning on meeting with the association this week to discuss the contents of the letter but did not say what day the meeting will happen.
But their comments are welcomed, he added.
“We welcome them – just as we have welcomed those of numerous businesses as we continue refining our public health requirements based on individual situations,” he said. “We believe our public health measures are backed up by best practices in the field, but we are always willing to listen.”
A second wave has long been predicted by health experts and doctors to hit sooner rather than later and while the letter recommended telling people that the GNWT is ready, Westwick cautioned that the territory may not have enough rapid test kits in place if the pandemic were to hit here.
“We’ve been receiving between 10 and 40 a week since (last month) and are always trying to get more,” he said. “But so are a lot of jurisdictions. And we are trying to save as many rapid tests as possible for when a second large surge of infections comes across Canada when that speed is only going to grow in importance.”