North

N.W.T. deputy chief public health officer hired, 'task force' created to help enforce COVID-19 protocols

Conrad Baetz has been hired to lead approximately 30 staff to help enforce public health orders issued by chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola.

Conrad Baetz to lead approximately 30 staff to help enforce public health orders

Dr. Kami Kandola, chief public health officer of the N.W.T., says she's created a task force and hired a deputy chief public health officer to help enforce her COVID-19 orders. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

A new "task force" has been created in the N.W.T., and a deputy chief public health officer has been hired to help enforce COVID-19 orders, according to the chief public health officer.

Conrad Baetz, the assistant deputy minister of operations for the Department of Lands, is now the deputy chief public health officer — and Dr. Kami Kandola's "right hand," Kandola announced during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

"We are coming back stronger," Kandola said.

She said many people across the territory have contacted her office, asking for more enforcement for her legally binding orders and public health recommendations.

Kandola says Baetz will lead nearly 30 people — known as public health officers — appointed from different departments within the territorial government to help make sure people are complying.

She says the public health officers are people community members already know and respect.

Missed the press conference? Watch it here as details are released about new 'task force'

'More boots on the ground'

During the press conference Wednesday, Baetz said since Kandola issued her first order nearly three weeks ago — banning all non-residents from the territory, and legally requiring all returning residents to self-isolate for 14 days in major centres, and submit a self-isolation plan — not everyone has been following it. 

He says part of the problem is there weren't enough people from the government in smaller communities to help enforce the order. 

Baetz says that's changed now with the new public health officers. He says they will also investigate complaints coming through the office of the chief public health officer.

"We have more people across the territory now who will be able to address any non-compliance," Baetz said.

180 complaints, 155 investigations, no fines yet

According to the territorial government, there have been 180 complaints made to the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer regarding people who aren't complying to COVID-19 protocols.

Of those complaints, 155 have been investigated and are closed, 16 were "unfounded" and closed due to lack of information and nine are open and currently being investigated. 

"What we need is more boots on the ground and more people to investigate these complaints," Kandola said. 

They have the ability to issue tickets as well as compel somebody to court.- Conrad Baetz, deputy chief public health officer

Baetz says if a complaint is investigated and verified, it's within the public health officer's discretion to "take whatever action that they deem necessary."

"And that could be something along the lines of a stern talking to, a verbal warning, written warning ... They have the ability to issue tickets as well as compel somebody to court at a later date," Baetz said.

Krystal Pidborochynski, senior cabinet communications advisor, told CBC that so far the people involved in any verified complaint have received education and direction from officials — and that discipline has not escalated into fines yet.

Order banning all large gatherings coming soon

Kandola says she expects to issue a new order within the next few weeks banning all large gatherings in the territory.

Right now, social protocols like physical distancing and avoiding contact with people outside the household are highly recommended but not law. 

Leaders in some small communities have said the territorial government has not been doing enough to not only make sure people self-isolate for 14 days when returning to the territory, but that people don't hold any social gatherings as well.

In Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., Mayor Erwin Elias says a number of people are partying outside and not keeping their physical distance.

Hamlet officials in Tuktoyaktuk established a checkstop Tuesday to make sure people from outside the community stay away and don't possibly spread the novel coronavirus.

But at a news conference Tuesday, Premier Caroline Cochrane asked communities not to set up checkstops, saying such actions would not stop the spread of COVID-19.

In Hay River, N.W.T., town council has hired a bylaw officer that will patrol the streets at different times of day to gather information on people's mandatory self-isolation, as well as who isn't complying with Kandola's recommendations.

Baetz said Wednesday the public health officers won't necessarily be able to shut down every party, but they will be present in communities to assess possible risks to the public, and take further action if necessary.

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