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NWT had no plan for shelter staff sickness, minister says

Julie Green addresses reporters in June 2021. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

The NWT’s health minister says the number of sick shelter staff has outstripped the territory’s plan to combat a Covid-19 outbreak as facilities in Yellowknife close.

Speaking to Loren McGinnis on CBC North’s Trailbreaker, Julie Green said the territorial government “couldn’t have anticipated” so many staff would contract Covid-19, or be forced to isolate, that the city’s downtown day shelter and sobering centre would be forced to shut down.

“Our plans, I guess, could they maybe have been more robust? What happens if all the staff get sick? I don’t think we had a plan for that. So we have been catching up on that,” Green told the broadcaster.

Critics of the territory’s response to the latest outbreak say the GNWT rushed some supports into place with inexperienced staff and placed workers in some facilities at unnecessary risk.



The minister said some 45 people from Yellowknife’s vulnerable population spent Saturday night in isolation centres. There is an exposure warning for the sobering centre from Thursday until its closure on Saturday, ordering anyone who was at the centre in that time – regardless of vaccination status – to isolate immediately.

“If the outbreak continues to blow up at the pace that it has, we may run out of bodies, and we may be at the point of issuing a public call for help,” Green said.

The City of Yellowknife has offered the use of a municipal arena as an emergency shelter, according to Green, and discussions will be held between the city, housing corporation, and NWT health authority on Monday to assess that option.

“There’s no question that without the combined centre, we do have a gap in services,” said Green, referring to the day shelter and sobering centre on 50 Street.



“I’m acutely aware we have a population who have been exposed to Covid-19 and there’s potential continued community transmission from that exposure. And so the number of cases will continue to grow, that’s my greatest concern, and that it will grow into particularly vulnerable populations, like children who haven’t had the opportunity to be vaccinated.”

So far, schools in Yellowknife remain open. The city had 97 active Covid-19 cases as of Friday evening, with an update to that figure expected later on Monday.

“I could never have foreseen that the supports I and many others worked so hard to put in place in 2018 would be completely unravelled today,” said Green of the 50 Street centre’s closure.

“It’s shocking. And it’s alarming. Those services were put in place because they were necessary. They’re heavily used.”