The territorial government on Tuesday published a report summarizing feedback from communities regarding isolation measures in place during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Calls for change to the NWT’s isolation rules – and who pays for isolation centre stays – have recently gained momentum. Both Fort Simpson and Fort Liard have expressed interest in allowing residents to isolate within their communities after medical travel, which currently can’t ordinarily happen.
At the moment, almost anyone entering the NWT must isolate for 14 days in either Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith, or Inuvik. Those who live elsewhere must isolate at a government-run centre in one of those four hubs before continuing home.
Eleven Indigenous governments, 21 communities, and the territory’s Business Advisory Council took part in feedback sessions in late October and early November.
The feedback report published on Tuesday showed most local leaders were open to changing isolation rules, though there was little consensus as to what exactly any changes would look like.
If, for example, isolation were to be allowed in more parts of the NWT, many communities said they would have concerns about a lack of resources to accommodate those in isolation. Some expressed uncertainty regarding levels of enforcement.
Indigenous governments said Covid-19 had triggered anxiety and fear within several communities that experienced past epidemics or illnesses that devastated families. Having people self-isolate in the community could potentially exacerbate those anxieties, according to comments documented in the report.
As it stands, the majority of organizations involved said they wouldn’t be willing to institute a rule allowing residents from their communities to self-isolate at home.
However, many said they may become more open to the idea. Increases in rapid testing, for example, could help communities and governments make isolation decisions on a case-by-case basis while alleviating fear.
Mike Westwick, the NWT government’s Covid-19 communications manager, told Cabin Radio changes to isolation rules remain under consideration.
“We’ve heard from a lot of folks, throughout this pandemic, that isolating away from home is something that’s tough,” Westwick said.
“We have to balance that with protective public health measures to respond to the fact that there are communities with less capacity to respond to cases and outbreaks of Covid-19 if they happen.”
Who pays for isolation?
When it comes to who covers isolation centre costs, most organizations that provided feedback felt the territorial government should not be paying for all isolation-centre stays – but there could be exceptions to this rule, such as those travelling for funerals or other such occasions.
There must be clear definitions of what counts as “unnecessary travel,” representatives said, as what could be considered appropriate to some might not be to others.
A person isolating at a GNWT-run centre costs the territory approximately $4,000 for a 14-day period – accounting for 54 percent of the NWT’s spending on its public health pandemic response – according to figures from a discussion paper released by the territory in October.
The lack of certainty expressed by many in Tuesday’s report suggests significant changes to isolation are unlikely to be imminent.
Westwick could not provide a timeline for any adjustments from the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer.
“I think the key point of this is that we are listening to any and all feedback,” he said, “and taking them all into consideration as those discussions happen and we look toward new solutions for self-isolation for residents.”