Residents of the Northwest Territories need to stop a cascade of mean, scaremongering online comments related to the Covid-19 pandemic, the territory’s premier and chief public health officer said.
Premier Caroline Cochrane and Dr Kami Kandola said the “backlash” related to recent cases of Covid-19 could make people too afraid of the online consequences to get tested themselves, endangering others.
“We have to make our communities a safe place that, if people have symptoms, they feel safe enough to go in and get tested,” said Dr Kandola this week.
“If people react to a notification to the public with the same degree that we’re seeing on social media, it will make the next person think twice about wanting to go in and get tested – and just stay home if they have symptoms.”
The latest two cases in Yellowknife involve one person who returned home from travel and transmitted the virus to another member of their household.
Kandola said residents were “quick to judge” without considering the human beings involved in such cases.
“That person could be you. It could be one of your loved ones coming home,” she said, adding she “regularly” received messages from residents who feared the possible consequences if their Covid-19 test came back positive.
“You could be self-isolating as much as possible but inadvertently have an exposure that could lead to transmission. And you may not know, because Covid-19 can be very mild. Some people can spread without symptoms,” Kandola said.
“So how would you want to be treated? And if people don’t know the whole story, how would you want your actions judged?
“I want people to be tested. We can’t live in a community or society where there’ll be such a backlash that people will be hesitant to seek help.”
NWT patient felt threatened
The first person in the NWT to test positive for Covid-19, back in March, earlier told Cabin Radio they felt threatened by online comments at the time.
That person, who is not being publicly identified, said: “People were really demanding to know who I was, or know more information so they could figure out who I was.
“It felt threatening. It was likely a fearful reaction, which I can understand, but it did also make me feel even more isolated.”
Cochrane, speaking at the same Wednesday news conference as Kandola, said she could not blame people who felt too afraid of online comments to go for a test. “I would be afraid, too,” she said, urging residents to do better.
“I grew up here. I’ve been here for 58 years. This was always a community where it was hard to live and life was tough, but we were resilient and we were kind to each other,” the premier said.
“My mother had eight children. She opened the door for anyone, she fed any person that showed up, she gave people places to sleep. We need to remember the northern spirit, we need to treat each other with kindness.
“It’s not only about making sure that the next person isn’t afraid to go get tested. It’s about how you would feel if it was your loved one that was getting attacked on social media. It’s not OK.”
Kandola concluded: “This pandemic is going to be here for a while. Treat people with kindness and respect. Give them the benefit of the doubt.”