Fort Simpson has seen relatively few cases of Covid-19 during the pandemic, but a recent surge in positive cases due to the Omicron wave has cost the village $15,000 to $20,000 to help people safely isolate.
At a council meeting on Monday, the community’s senior administrator, Kevin Corrigan, provided an update on Fort Simpson’s Covid-19 situation. He said village staff have been helping put people needing a place to isolate in local hotels, and buying them groceries.
Corrigan said the village has been footing those bills only for “people who didn’t have any other option or any other choice.”
“The message has been the same to everyone, if you have the means to buy your own food, buy your own food. If you have friends and family who can help, use that. And if you don’t, then we will help you,” he said.
Fort Simpson is using money from $68,000 in federal funding it was granted to help cover the costs of Covid-19. Previously, the village had only spent about $10,000 to $15,000 of that funding on personal protective equipment, cloth masks for the community, and various supplies.
The village did not provide the exact number of residents that are currently being supported, but Corrigan said it has gone down as case numbers begin to settle.
Fort Simpson has had a total of 183 Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. As of Monday evening, 28 active cases remained in the community, according to the NWT’s Covid-19 dashboard.
Councillor Kyle Christiansen said he was concerned about how the village was choosing who to assist, as there was no council input on the matter and the community hadn’t declared a state of emergency.
“I have issues with certain people being treated differently than other people, everyone should be treated the same,” he said. “If we’re going to be giving away food, everyone isolating should have gotten food.”
There is no criteria for narrowing down who needs support, Carrigan said, so village staff are the ones making the determination.
He said the village had not said no to any resident who had asked for assistance but residents have been encouraged to only ask in cases of emergency where they can’t cover the costs themselves.
“We’re encouraging people who would be buying food at home themselves anyway to continue to be doing what’d they’d be doing in isolation,” Corrigan said.
Mayor Sean Whelly said “homelessness was being created through Covid.” He said some people who’ve been told to isolate have been kicked out of their homes into the extreme cold.
An outbreak was also declared at the community’s warming shelter late last month.
Those are cases where the village steps in to ensure residents have a safe place to stay, the mayor said.
Whelly added he believes Yellowknife’s response to Covid-19 during outbreaks among vulnerable populations was supported by the territorial government. He said smaller communities were being “left to dry” and pick up their own tabs.
“Let’s not berate ourselves for having helped and spent some money, let’s ask to be treated the same as Yellowknife,” he said.
For now, the village will continue to support residents who are isolating. Corrigan said the Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation is also helping those isolating in the community.