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Get vaccinated and follow the rules, N.W.T. leaders plead amid Behchokǫ̀ outbreak

Premier Caroline Cochrane, Monfwi MLA Jane Weyallon Armstrong, Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs Shane Thompson, Behchokǫ̀ Chief Clifford Daniels and Health Minister Julie Green gave an update on COVID-19 in the N.W.T. Thursday afternoon.

Update comes one day after community transmission confirmed in Behchokǫ

Clockwise from top left: Premier Caroline Cochrane, Monfwi MLA Jane Weyallon Armstrong, Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs Shane Thompson, Behchokǫ̀ Chief Clifford Daniels and Health Minister Julie Green gave an update on COVID-19 in the N.W.T. Thursday. (CBC)

Territorial politicians made a joint plea Thursday to citizens to get vaccinated, mask up and follow the current public health orders to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

Premier Caroline Cochrane, Monfwi MLA Jane Weyallon Armstrong, Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs Shane Thompson, Behchokǫ̀ Chief Clifford Daniels and Health Minister Julie Green gave a short briefing to media Thursday afternoon.

Green said she expects to see more positive cases of COVID-19 in Behchokǫ̀, despite the "decisive action" taken Wednesday when the chief public health officer issued a 14-day containment order for that community. As of Thursday afternoon, the community had 12 active cases as a result of community spread. 

Green asked people to consider the healthcare workers who are under pressure to respond to the growing caseload. 

"These people are indispensable and we owe it to them to do what we can," she said. 

Green also said they are seeing "some increase" in vaccine uptake. She declined to speculate on why people were seeking the vaccine now but said the outbreak "does seem to be a motivating factor." 

One doctor and one nurse, out of 12 nurses and two doctors in total, have been deployed to Behchokǫ, Green said. 

Thompson said the emergency management organization has asked Joint Task Force North to conduct a staff check on Canadian Rangers available in Yellowknife, Dettah, Ndilo, Behchokǫ̀, Gametì, Whatì and Wekweètì as a "preparedness measure."

He said that request was just a precautionary exercise for now. 

'Stay home,' chief says

Behchokǫ̀ Chief Clifford Daniels stressed that working together was the solution to the current outbreak. He said food hampers were already being organized for those in isolation, and more supports were available, including a Tłı̨chǫ-language telephone hotline. 

"First thing I ask you to do is stay home," he said, then asked people to avoid travel. 

But, he added, "the most important thing you can do to keep our community safe is to get vaccinated." 

Premier Caroline Cochrane said the COVID-19 Secretariat would be sending three enforcement officers to Behchokǫ̀, along with six months worth of personal protective equipment. 

She also said, once again, that the territory was at a "pivotal moment" in protecting both our communities and the "integrity of our healthcare system." 

Rebecca Nash, the director of health and social services for the Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency, said Behchokǫ̀'s community health centre was already operating on "emergency services" given the staffing level of nurses. 

"We are doing our best," she said, adding that they are still offering services for non-COVID-19 matters. 

Chief Alfonz Nitsiza of Whatì added his voice encouraging people to get vaccinated.

"We have family ties, lots of relatives there [in Behchokǫ]," he said. "We also worry about them. We're encouraging everybody to get tested and get vaccinated, get their shot. That's the best protection you can get."

Vaccine passports

Asked whether vaccine passports were coming to the territory, Premier Cochrane said she's watching the federal government closely, in particular its plan to make vaccines necessary for travel. 

She says there are issues with that idea in the N.W.T. where people rely on air travel for day-to-day services and activities. 

She's also concerned about the resources to manage a vaccine passport system.

"Our resources are thin," she said. "We would ideally work together as a nation across Canada to be able to do that versus one-on-one." 

Cochrane said there are no plans underway for a territorial passport. 

"I don't believe the [chief public health] office or executive at this point is looking at a passport to get into movie theatres etc, but again, things are very fluid," she said. 

"I think that will be a wave of the future."

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