Under heavy restrictions, Behchokǫ̀ leadership wants to curb the spread of COVID-19

As case counts continue to rise in Behchokǫ̀, the community's leadership is pleading with those who have not gotten the vaccine to understand their responsibilities to other people, including the vaccinated, elders and children.

'We've been pleading with the public and saying, get vaccinated,' says Chief Clifford Daniels

Behchoko Chief Clifford Daniels is pleading community members to take the vaccine and to follow the rules to bring case counts down as soon as possible. (Kirsten Fenn/CBC)

Behchokǫ̀ has been under containment for one month, and the restrictions are getting even tighter to slow an outbreak that has ballooned to 100 cases since late-August, when officials detected a positive wastewater signal in the community. 

"It's been a struggle here, you know we haven't peaked yet … our numbers are going up," said Behchokǫ̀ Chief Clifford Daniels. He said the new restrictions will lessen people's freedom to travel.

"People are going to have to adjust," Daniels said, adding that movement between Yellowknife and Behchokǫ̀ is one source of ongoing transmission. 

"This is a struggle," he said. "It's hit home and it's really serious."

As of Monday, travellers in and out of Behchokǫ must prove they are vaccinated, had a recent negative test for COVID-19 or that they recently had COVID-19, the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer (OCPHO) said Monday.

The community's previous containment order was less strict, and "excessive" cars full of people were going to and from the communities, Daniels said. The new rules are in place until Oct. 18.

"I know there's a huge support in the community to have a lock down, and this is very close to it," Daniels said.

Daniels continues to encourage everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 

"We've been pleading with the public and saying, get vaccinated, get tested," he said.

He acknowledged that some people are against vaccination in his community, and said they have a right not to get the shots. 

But he added: "I've said it before: if a person is no longer here, what rights does he have?"

'We feel the sadness in our community'

The outbreak weighs on Monfwi MLA Jane Weyallon Armstrong, who is watching over her three-year-old grandson, sent home from daycare.

"We feel the sadness in our community," said Weyallon Armstrong, who cannot even visit her neighbour and says elders are isolated because of the outbreak.

"It's mentally and emotionally draining that there's lots of things that we want to do, but we can't do. It'd be nice if the people started listening and taking this seriously."

Monfwi MLA Jane Weyallon Armstrong, photographed earlier this summer, said the outbreak is "heavy" and that the new restrictions will be toughest on the unvaccinated, who now need negative COVID-19 tests to go in or out of the community. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

"It's heavy," she said. "I get phone calls saying that there are more than 10 people living in the house and sometimes ... all of them are affected in the house."

Weyallon Armstrong said the restrictions will be hardest on those who choose to not get vaccinated, and will have to take COVID-19 tests to leave or return to the community. 

She encourages everyone to get the shots. 

"We have to think about the elders and the little kids under 12 that are not vaccinated. The message is going out there now," said Weyallon Armstrong.

Protect grandparents during outbreak

Daniels says it will take days for some people to adjust to the new travel restrictions because many members live in Edzo, around Frank Channel and along the highway. 

The rules could also affect people who are usually planning to harvest firewood or go out on a fall hunt, and will need to be vaccinated or test negative for COVID-19.

The "last thing you want is somebody to get ill with COVID-19 on the land," said Daniels.

If parents become ill, extended families may need to oversee children who can be asymptomatic carriers.

"Grandparents in this COVID-19 situation should not be taking care of grandchildren," Daniels said, recalling how the Spanish Flu "wiped out" many Indigenous people in the early 1900s.

Daniels said the community government is collaborating with the federal government to put up an isolation centre for those who test positive and have nowhere to go and is distributing food hampers in Behchokǫ̀ and the three outlying communities. 

It's a joint effort with the Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency, their business arm the Tłı̨chǫ Investment Corporation, the Tłı̨chǫ Government, N.W.T.'s COVID Secretariat and the chief public health officer.

Daniels said he is hoping for the outbreak to be over in time for Christmas, and for kids to be back in school as soon as possible.

"I hope [cases] peak very soon and start going down because I hate to keep going up and up."

With files from Juanita Taylor