Behchokǫ̀ chief urges more people to get vaccinated after COVID-19 risk closes schools

Chief Clifford Daniels says that while there's "some relief" over the fact that children won't be inadvertently in contact with staff or students who travelled to Yellowknife over the weekend and were possibly exposed to COVID-19.

Chief Clifford Daniels says there's 'some relief' in the community after schools ordered closed on Monday

Behchokǫ̀ Chief Clifford Daniels is urging more people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 after more than 1,000 people were identified as close contacts of cases associated with the outbreak at Yellowknife's N.J. Macpherson School. (Kirsten Fenn/CBC)

There's "some relief" in Behchokǫ̀, Northwest Territories, now that its schools are closed, but the chief says there's still fear about COVID-19 spreading to the community — particularly because of its relatively low vaccination rate. 

"It's really just hit home recently that it's here, so we have to be as cautious as we can," Chief Clifford Daniels told CBC on Tuesday.

The Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency closed Behchokǫ̀'s two schools on Monday after territorial health officials identified more than 1,000 people who had been close contacts of the COVID-19 cases associated with the outbreak at Yellowknife's N.J. Macpherson School

According to officials, students and staff from Behchokǫ̀ attended "group events" in Yellowknife over the weekend, including a "multi-school soccer tournament." 

Mandatory masking is also now in effect in Behchokǫ̀, and all organized activities have been cancelled. 

Daniels said discussions about closing the schools began over the weekend, with some members of the public — especially parents — expressing concern about children returning to school, and that ultimately, he supported the move. 

"We needed to address these concerns and this fear that [COVID-19] really has come to our doorsteps … Something had to be done just to reassure parents that everybody is communicating and doing our best to make sure it doesn't spread," he said. 

While some parents may have had to make last-minute childcare arrangements, Daniels said there's also "some relief" over the fact that children won't be inadvertently coming into contact with others who were possibly exposed to COVID-19 in Yellowknife. He also said the community could reach out to other government bodies for assistance should the situation in Behchokǫ̀ escalate, and that he would be having discussions about introducing sewage testing. 

However, he pointed to a larger issue that he said was still a primary concern — the spread of variants, which can impact younger people more severely, and the number of people who have received a vaccine.

According to Daniels, only about 30 per cent of Behchokǫ̀'s population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, and people in the community regularly travel to Yellowknife for work, to see family or to take care of other daily needs.

"If [COVID-19] does get to Behchokǫ̀, I think it might hit us hard," he said. "If Yellowknife is affected, we're affected." 

Daniels urged everyone who hasn't been vaccinated yet to get a shot — particularly the "younger generation," whose vaccination rates he said were "very low."

"Herd immunity is needed, you know? We're trying to get back to normal," he said. 

"Those who didn't get vaccinated, I would really, really encourage to get vaccinated."

Based on an interview by Loren McGinnis