Chief Clifford Daniels of Behchokǫ̀ urged residents to follow newly introduced rules as the community, with low vaccine uptake, closed its schools to combat Covid-19.
The NWT’s chief public health officer shut down schools and ordered mask-wearing in Behchokǫ̀’s indoor public spaces over concern that some residents were exposed to Covid-19 in Yellowknife in the past week. Schools in Yellowknife, Ndilǫ and Dettah are already closed.
Daniels worries that the Tłı̨chǫ region has one of the lowest vaccine uptake rates in the territory.
“We’ve always been vigilant to make sure that Covid didn’t really come to our community,” Daniels said. “Covid is really hitting close to home right now.”
There are now 14 confirmed and six probable cases of Covid-19 related to an outbreak at NJ Macpherson School in Yellowknife. More than 30 new exposure notices were issued on Monday evening.
More than 1,000 people are considered close contacts to Covid-19 cases and are isolating, including some students and staff from Behchokǫ̀ who attended events in Yellowknife over the weekend.
All organized activities for Behchokǫ̀ residents aged under 18 are cancelled.
Daniels told Cabin Radio he supported the new measures and had heard from many concerned residents.
“I think there’s some relief from the families and parents,” he said, “now that the schools will be closed.”
Low vaccine rates, traffic from YK
As of April 21, 53 percent of eligible Tłı̨chǫ residents were unvaccinated. Thirty-seven percent were fully vaccinated and 47 percent were partially vaccinated. Those statistics are next due to be updated by the NWT government on Wednesday.
Daniels said he encouraged all eligible residents, especially those under the age of 30, to get the vaccine.
“That’s about the best protection you can provide for yourself and those you love around you in the community,” he said.
More than 800 Tłı̨chǫ residents live in Yellowknife, Daniels said, so a lot of families ordinarily travel between the communities. A soccer tournament at the weekend attracted many Behchokǫ̀ participants, and even the Monday opening of a new KFC franchise had Daniels concerned.
“I know today we had a big KFC opening in Yellowknife and I know lots of my people went over there,” Daniels said by phone on Monday evening.
“We’re right next to Yellowknife so we figured the impact might be more,” he said. “We’re just being cautious. Hopefully there’s lots of caution shown and we really abide by the measures in place.”
Daniels expects recreation facilities in the community to be closed to the public. A booth may be set up near the entrance to Behchokǫ̀ to “share information and to do some monitoring,” he said.
A special meeting of the community’s council on Wednesday will examine Covid-19 measures such as isolation, checkpoints, and the potential introduction of wastewater testing in Behchokǫ̀.
A handful of NWT communities use sewage sampling as an early-warning system to spot undetected Covid-19 cases by analyzing sewage for the coronavirus responsible. That approach is credited with identifying a separate cluster of Covid-19 cases in Yellowknife last month.