North

How did non-residents get into Fort Simpson for a funeral? Mayor wants answers

Mayor Sean Whelly said people from Ontario and Alberta came to the community for a funeral last weekend. He's waiting for the territorial government to explain how that happened. 

People from Ontario and Alberta came to town for a funeral last weekend, says Mayor Sean Whelly

Fort Simpson Mayor Sean Whelly says he's asked the territorial government, through MLA Shane Thompson, to figure out how people from Ontario and Alberta were able to get into the village without self isolating first. (Submitted by Sean Whelly)

The mayor of Fort Simpson is waiting for the territorial government to explain how people from out of the N.W.T. came into his community last weekend.

Sean Whelly said people from Ontario and Alberta came to the community for a funeral. The funeral itself met the criteria of the chief public health officer amid the COVID-19 pandemic, because it was held outdoors with fewer than 50 people. 

The concern comes from after the funeral, when Whelly said the relatives from out of the territory were observed in close contact with others after the service. 

The village closed its offices because staff attended the funeral. 

"[The village] just shut down the office, thinking that if we've somehow contracted it, we don't want to give it to the general public," Whelly told the CBC.

If we've somehow contracted it, we don't want to give it to the general public. - Sean Whelly, mayor of Fort Simpson 

He says that, through MLA Shane Thompson, he's asked the government how the people got into the community.

Currently, the N.W.T. border is still closed to non-residents unless travellers have pre-approved self-isolation plans for things like work or school. There are checkpoints at most border locations. There are also exceptions on compassionate grounds, such as death or illness in the family, which require filing a request with public health.

However, according to the chief public health officer, it doesn't appear that this happened in the Fort Simpson case.

'We did not authorize this activity'

Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory's chief public health officer, confirmed on CBC's The Trailbreaker Thursday morning that her department is investigating a possible pandemic-related public health violation in Fort Simpson. 

I just want to be clear: we did not authorize this activity. - Dr. Kami Kandola, N.W.T.'s chief public health officer 

"We are aware of an incident in Fort Simpson where there has been unauthorized entry through misrepresentation of purposes," Kandola said.

"I just want to be clear: we did not authorize this activity," she said.

Mike Westwick, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Services, confirmed in an email that they have been in contact with Mayor Whelly and they're investigating the issue and collecting evidence.

He confirmed that the department "did not authorize anyone to attend any event without self-isolating or taking other precautions."

"If the incident is confirmed, consequences could include a summary offence ticket information charge like those handed down to eight others so far," he wrote, referring to the $1,725 fines the COVID-19 Compliance and Enforcement Task Force have handed out to people failing to follow the rules around self-isolation.

"There will be consequences should the incident be verified."

Westwick added that there's no indication anyone in Fort Simpson should be worried about their health as a result of this incident.

Dr. Kami Kandola, chief public health officer of the N.W.T., confirmed an investigation is taking place into what happened in Fort Simpson this weekend. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Local construction business closes doors 

Owen Rowe, co-owner of Rowe's Construction, said the company decided to close its Fort Simpson office to the general public for the next two weeks. 

In a Facebook statement, Rowe's said "events outside our control" made the closures necessary to keep their staff safe. 

My staff and my employees are our lifeline, and we heed what they say. - Owen Rowe, co-owner of Rowe's Construction Fort Simpson

Rowe said they made the decision after fielding a number of concerns from their employees about people coming into the community from outside the territory over the last week. 

"My staff and my employees are our lifeline, and we heed what they say," Rowe told CBC. 

A still of the Rowe's Construction headquarters in Hay River, N.W.T., through the back of an oil and gas truck. The company says it closed their Fort Simpson office for two weeks after fielding concerns from employees about people from outside the N.W.T. entering the community. (Anna Desmarais/CBC )

This is the first time the company heard complaints from their staff during the pandemic, Rowe said. He would not say what the concerns are about, citing the privacy of his employees. 

Rowe said he thinks the territorial government is "doing what they can" to limit the number of people coming into the territory from elsewhere. 

Customers can still call in to the shop if they need to do any business with them at this time. 

Staff at Fort Simpson's recreation centre posted to the village's Facebook group that they will only let five people in at a time. Anyone looking to sign up for fitness centre memberships will be required to wear masks before entering the centre. 

The recreation centre restrictions will stay in place until Aug. 10.

A presumptive case of COVID-19 was reported Thursday afternoon at the Diavik Diamond Mine, 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife.

With files from Alyssa Mosher

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