Local MLAs confirm COVID-19 case in Inuvik, 3 days after public notices go up

There was confusion in Inuvik on Monday when no COVID-19 case was announced in the daily update from the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer (OCPHO). Aurora College had begun to inform students of a COVID-19 exposure on Saturday.

'When we don't have the correct information… there's a problem,' says MLA Lesa Semmler

A public exposure notice went up at the Aurora College campus in Inuvik on Saturday. In a Monday COVID-19 update by the N.W.T. Office of the Chief Public Health Officer, no positive cases were announced in the community. MLAs confirmed the case to residents on Facebook on Tuesday. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

There was confusion in Inuvik on Monday when no COVID-19 case was announced in the daily update from the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer (OCPHO).

Notices about a COVID-19 exposure at Aurora College had already been posted at the college, and emails had been sent out to students and staff over the weekend.

Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler was not impressed. 

"We get the update on Monday and it says zero. Zero cases. So where was the communication breakdown?" she assked.

Semmler and Deputy Premier Diane Archie, MLA for Inuvik Boot Lake, both confirmed to residents on their Facebook pages Tuesday afternoon that there was indeed a case of COVID-19 confirmed in town on Oct. 1. 

It's the first case in the community in weeks, even as both Yellowknife and Behchokǫ̀ are experiencing large outbreaks. 

'This could be dangerous'

Semmler said she'd been getting messages from residents asking about a case in Inuvik since the weekend, but they escalated after Monday's daily announcement, which "made everybody confused."

Semmler said this is not the first time information wasn't relayed to MLAs in a timely fashion.

"Especially in the outlying communities, when there is a case, the first place people usually go to get accurate information is the MLA," Semmler said.

Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler asked, 'Where was the communication breakdown?" (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

"When we don't have the correct information … there's a problem. This could be dangerous. We could get community spread because we don't know if we have it or not."

Semmler also pointed out that because Inuvik hasn't had many cases so far, people are sometimes more relaxed with the protocols of social distancing and wearing masks.

Hundreds of people had also just attended the march on Thursday for the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.

College notice

Although Aurora College posted exposure notices on the windows on Oct. 2, as of Tuesday afternoon, the college had still not been added to the territorial government's list of public exposure notices

A spokesperson with the Department of Health and Social Services said that the OCPHO does not confirm cases outside of the daily public health advisory, Monday to Friday. 

"In exposure situations where there may be individuals who were exposed that cannot explicitly be identified, a public exposure notification is issued," wrote Richard Makohoniuk, manager of COVID-19 communications. "In cases where individuals are easily identified, the OCPHO may not issue a notice but instead contact all individuals directly."

He did not confirm whether there is a current case of COVID-19 in Inuvik currently.

System 'bogged out'

Semmler said public notices should be issued if students and staff are given notices.

"That's a large population so you might as well just do a public exposure," she said. 

But Semmler did say that she's willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the health department, which is dealing with the highest COVID-19 caseload in the territory since the start of the pandemic. 

"There's only so much staff and nurses that can do contact tracing. The system right now is bogged right out," said Semmler.

"This is a problem. There is a communication breakdown somewhere and it just needs to be corrected and not happen again."