North

Hamlet's creative public health idea criticized, but N.W.T. top doctor encourages innovation

Businesses and hamlet offices in Aklavik, N.W.T., are starting to reopen but there are still concerns about whether all organizations are able to maintain physical distancing.

Dr. Kami Kandola says communities may need creativity to implement pandemic guidelines

This cardboard divider encouraging physical distancing offended some in Aklavik, N.W.T, and prompted Rita Arey to send a complaint to Premier Caroline Cochrane. (Aklavik Hamlet/Facebook)

Businesses and hamlet offices in Aklavik, N.W.T., are starting to reopen but there are still concerns about whether all organizations are able to maintain physical distancing.

In June, an Aklavik resident complained that there wasn't enough physical distancing happening in the hamlet office. They called the Protect NWT line — an enforcement hotline for COVID-19 public health rules.

Rita Arey — an Aklavik resident who ended up writing an email to Premier Caroline Cochrane about her concerns — said it started when another community member contacted her about their experience at the hamlet office.

"According to the hamlet, they had everything in place for physical distancing and safety. And when the person went into the hamlet office, it wasn't so, and they did feel unsafe," said Arey.

The complainant said they were concerned that there was no plexiglass or hand sanitizer.

An Aklavik Hamlet Facebook page posted a photo that referenced the complaint at the end of June, and Arey said the complainant was in shock. The photo had a piece of cardboard with a drawing of a man with the caption saying "come one come all and address our new staff member."

Arey said the person who filed the initial complaint was upset about it and that prompted Arey to write the letter to Cochrane, who is also the municipal and community affairs minister.

"Just felt like it was a form of bullying because somebody made a call where they weren't acting safe — and when I myself saw the post, I was livid," said Arey.

"It's not funny and an apology should be made on the hamlet page."

I went to my staff and said we had a problem and that's what they came up with.- Fred Behrens, SAO of Aklavik

Arey said she did not contact the hamlet directly because she felt she needed to reach outside in order to be heard. She said she also contacted Protect NWT.

Arey said it's important to follow the chief public health officer's recommendations to keep everyone safe, especially since the hamlet is so small.

Community can't access plexiglass: SAO

Aklavik Senior Administrative Officer Fred Behrens said the cardboard drawing was a joke and that he posted it on Facebook, but said he hasn't heard any complaints about the drawing.

Rita Arey is an Aklavik resident. (Submitted by Rita Arey)

He said the cardboard was put up after they got a phone call from the Beaufort Delta's regional health officer about the physical distancing complaint.

"We have markings on the floor. We have direction on the floor," said Behrens. "I went to my staff and said we had a problem and that's what they came up with."

Behrens said the community didn't have access to plexiglass, so cardboard was their solution.

According to a territorial government spokesperson, April 29 was the last time a public health officer visited the community in person, though officers still had contact with communities by phone.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola said that offices may need to get creative about how they implement the guidelines. 

This is a good time to see what works and what doesn't.- Kami Kandola, N.W.T. chief public health officer

"Some people may not have a physical barrier like plexiglass but some cheap but innovative solutions are using a clear shower curtain and taping that to the desktop," Kandola said.

She said each business has to create a work assessment through the Worker's Safety and Compensation Commission.

She said that this is a unique time, and some of it is a trial and error process.

Dr. Kami Kandola, chief public health officer of the N.W.T., says implementing guidelines in communities is a trial and error process. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

However, Kandola said she's been seeing communities like Aklavik coming up with creative ways to do this, noting the time Moose Kerr School set up desks outside so kids could get help with school work.

"This is a good time to see what works and what doesn't. At the same time, you want to try and reach the new normal and try and serve your clientele as much as possible," said Kandola.

About the Author

Mackenzie Scott is a CBC North reporter based in Inuvik.

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