Some Fort Smith residents are ignoring the town’s proof-of-vaccination policy as the number of active Covid-19 cases continues to rise, the community’s senior administrator says.
Fort Smith reported 34 active cases on Tuesday as the number of active cases territory-wide passed 1,000 for the first time since the pandemic began. One person in the NWT has been hospitalized.
At a Tuesday meeting of councillors broadcast on YouTube, senior administrator Cynthia White said a breach of the proof-of-vaccination policy had occurred at the town recreation centre last weekend, where exposure to Covid-19 took place.
“There were two people who are reported to be non-vaccinated individuals from two different households,” White said.
“That is a bit of a failure on the staff’s part to validate people’s vaccine passports … Once we reopen the facilities, that will be reinforced.
Whether the exposure was related to unvaccinated people at the recreation centre beyond their having been present at the time was not made clear.
“We have staff at home because of that,” said White, referring to the exposure, “and then we had a staff member test positive today. I’m working with the chief public health officer’s office to determine how to get our essential staff back to work.”
White listed a number of measures being taken, such as keeping some staff apart so that if further cases of Covid-19 arise among the workforce, enough employees will be available to maintain essential services like water delivery.
The senior administrator also confirmed Covid-19 exposure at the town’s daycare last week, following which children and staff were asked to isolate.
“The staff member who was involved in that exposure followed all of the requirements of the CPHO,” White said.
Access to rapid Covid-19 tests is proving difficult, White added, as only 10 tests were immediately available to the town.
“We know we’re on a pretty steep trajectory on the upward trend. We haven’t seen this many cases before in Fort Smith,” White told councillors.
The senior administrator said there were “some significant concerns about people abusing the facilities despite the policy that we have put into place, and now impacting our staff.”
There was no council discussion following White’s report, which was delivered at a Tuesday evening committee meeting.
Councillors had held an emergency council meeting earlier in the day. White said no video of that meeting existed because of technical difficulties.
Nobody at the town was immediately available to clarify what had been discussed at the earlier meeting, though a post to Facebook afterward announced the closure of most town-owned facilities in response to the rising number of Covid-19 cases.
Curling and Covid
Separately on Tuesday, councillors were told the ice plant that supports curling in Fort Smith had broken several times so far this winter and was out of service.
White said manufacturer Cimco wanted to send an engineer to carry out repairs in person, but the Omicron-variant Covid-19 outbreak complicated that process.
Compounding the issue is a belief that the ice plant may be responsible for annual flooding of the recreation centre’s electrical room, an occurrence previously blamed on spring melt.
“We cannot determine if the flooding that happens every season is because of the curling rink, spring melt outside, or some combination thereof,” said White.
“We’re very uncertain about the quality of the drainage system for the curling facility. It is kind-of sketchy at best. We have concerns about it.”
Indoor curling is currently prohibited NWT-wide under temporary measures designed to combat the spread of the Omicron variant.
White suggested the combination of that measure, the broken ice plant, and a need to understand the flooding concern may be enough to end the current curling season.
However, councillors urged staff to do all they could to keep people curling.
“We should wait and not cancel curling altogether. We’ve got to keep sports going in Fort Smith,” said Councillor Kevin Campbell.
“We have a hard-enough time as it is to keep people in that building curling. Let’s support them as much as we can, wait a week, and see if we have any different stance on the Omicron variant, and then make a decision about bringing in Cimco.”
Councillor Dianna Korol said: “I don’t think we should cancel the curling at this point, either. If we’re able to try to bring the ice back in, or at least get them in and find out how much it’s going to cost so we can budget appropriately and get a time frame on it, that would be better.”
White agreed staff would wait until the duration of the Omicron-related pause became clear before taking further action.
The news that the recreation centre’s electrical room is subject to annual flooding alarmed some councillors.
“This kind of stuff has to be unacceptable where we allow a building to flood in spring,” said Kevin Heron, the town’s deputy mayor.
“We have to start doing some preventative maintenance or get these problems solved.”
Mayor Fred Daniels said: “Should something happen over there then we’re going to lose the building. We’re always patching and repairing.
“Water and electric don’t mix. Get it fixed.”
Update: January 12, 2022 – 21:21 MT. This report has been updated to more clearly articulate that while there was Covid-19 exposure at the recreation centre and unvaccinated people were reported to have been present, whether the source of that exposure was vaccinated or otherwise was not made clear at the meeting.