Note: NNSL Media will be updating readers on a weekly basis on the status of City of Yellowknife operations during the COVID 19 pandemic.
The City of Yellowknife is the largest municipality in the Northwest Territories and as the capital city is home to most government, health care and private business services.
According to the 2016 Statistics Canada census, Yellowknife had a population of 19,569 – by far the largest municipality in the territory. It is also the only community to report a case of the novel coronavirus, still holding at one after 11 days.
Mayor Rebecca Alty said this week that the pace of events related to the pandemic seems to be slowing down from earlier in March when there were new developments happening every day.
She said it is important that the community remains vigilant in following the health and safety directives from the territory’s chief public health officer in order to lessen the risk of spreading the virus in the community.
“Right now, I think our main concern is making sure anyone coming back to the NWT after being down south from spring break (understand that) it’s legally required to self-isolate for 14 days. We really need to make sure people are following those orders.
“If people do hear of somebody or see somebody out and about who shouldn’t be, please contact Protect NWT. Either the Protect NWT email or 1-800 number.”
A public health emergency is only valid for two weeks, she said, so it could be that that period is extended with another declaration after Saturday, which is the two-week mark.
Alty said as the largest populated municipality in the NWT, she has been impressed by how businesses and members of the general public have adapted to the demands of the chief public health officer due to the coronavirus.
“I think residents and businesses have really stepped up and have been proactive in following the voluntary advisory put out such as closing down non-essential businesses,” she said.
“I found that Yellowknife businesses quickly turned to online (services) rather than having people come into their stores and potentially not being able to do the physical distance and thereby creating a hot spot for transmission. It was great to see local businesses and to see from the community a positive response.”
Copperhouse Eatery and Lounge, for example, turned to using its drive-through window – a holdover from when the restaurant once housed a Dairy Queen.
She acknowledged that much of everyday life is people being in close contact so it isn’t an easy task for most residents to do.
“It is not easy to be physically distant from our friends and our neighbours and our loved ones,” she said.
“Many people are celebrating birthdays and are having to do that by themselves in their homes but really the creativity we have seen with birthday parades and people having little bear hunts where you can walk around and see the bears in the hunts. Providing a bit of sunshine to a tough time with the layoffs is really challenging.”
Federal assistance and layoffs
Alty said she is concerned with the number of layoffs in the community and said it is critical that federal services that can offer income support will soon be available to residents.
“We want to make sure that the federal government programs can open up as quickly possible because residents are really going to need that support,” she said. “So I’m hoping that those are a quick turnaround and easy for residents to access.”
Alty said she hopes the GNWT lobbies for a greater share of the federal Canada Emergency Response Benefit that seeks to help people facing unemployment due to the virus.
In a Tuesday news conference with Infrastructure Minister Katrina Nokleby and Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek told reporters the GNWT is working with the federal government to ensure programs designed for workers are “adapted to the needs of the North.”
“I hope to see (the finance and infrastructure ministers) continue to lobby the federal government because $2,000 a month down in southern Ontario might be enough, but here in the North that is a challenge,” Alty said. “I hope the federal government recognizes our differences and makes changes to their programs to accommodate for that.”
The city has closed a number of municipal services, chief among them include the solid waste facility, said Alty. Right now the city is focusing on ensuring that core services continue, especially curbside garbage pickup.
Alty said the salvaging at the dump had to be curtailed because of the concern that the novel virus could remain on the surface of items for 72 hours.
“If we let people into the dump we would have to have an employee there to monitor to make sure people aren’t taking stuff,” she said. “It is a challenge for residents but we have to focus on core services right now. ”
Food supply in Yellowknife
Yellowknife has two large grocery stores operated by Loblaws as well as a Yellowknife Direct Co-op to provide food and goods, plus Walmart and Luluz Market. In recent weeks, NNSL Media has reported on shoppers buying up items and store operators contending with demand.
Alty said information about food supply doesn’t come to her in her role as mayor, however she said store operators have been responsive to the needs of the community.
“As a resident going to the store and seeing the challenges I think the stores have been proactive in putting restrictions on the number of products being sold,” she said.
“The trucks are coming and we are kind of now balancing out and normalizing a lot of the purchasing. I think a lot of people probably have a lot of food after the past two weeks.”