The NWT government is considering creating a specialized Covid-19 unit, bringing together staff from different departments to form one team dedicated to pandemic response.
At the moment, many departments hold responsibility for separate areas related to Covid-19. For example, the Department of Health and Social Services oversees testing while the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs manages emergency response.
A so-called Covid-19 Secretariat would create new positions giving some staff new full-time duties, rather than accommodating the pandemic within their existing roles.
The plan is at a preliminary stage. Its cost is to be determined, as is how long the secretariat – not a full department in its own right, and likely to be housed within Health and Social Services – would remain in existence.
“Covid-19 hit us and we had no game plan. There were zero binders, zero briefing notes that said this is how you deal with a pandemic,” Premier Caroline Cochrane told Cabin Radio. “Across the world, I don’t think there was such a template.
“When the fall comes, with the risk of a second wave … it’s important we look at our organizational structure so we are best fitted to be proactive and make sure everything’s in place so we can protect our people as best as possible.”
It’s not clear how many staff would be affected or when any change would be implemented.
However, Cochrane said some kind of organizational shift was required ahead of the fall, when a widely anticipated second wave of the novel coronavirus is expected to coincide with the onset of the regular flu season.
“We just don’t want to be hit off-guard again,” she said.
“We want to make sure that we have the systems in place so we know what we’re doing. And if anything happens – cases in the territory – it might take a moment, half an hour, an hour to be able to scramble together. Then we’ve got it in place and we say this is what you do.
“Versus the last time, where every time something hit it was like, what do we do now and what do we need to put in place?”
Cochrane pointed to the examples of the Department of Infrastructure handling border patrols, the Department of Finance’s role in tracking costs related to Covid-19, and the NWT Housing Corporation’s involvement in establishing isolation centres as roles that could be centralized if a secretariat is formed.
“The majority of departments were all scrambling to deal with Covid-19 off the side of their plates,” she said.
“That’s important to realize – government employees have full-time jobs. So they were not only dealing with the day-to-day things they had to do every day, but they had this chaos hit us.
“We can’t sustain that. That’s not sustainable. We need to actually look at how we can get it structured so that we are ready.”