Should the N.W.T. government name the small community with a COVID-19 case?

Since the first case of COVID-19 was announced in the territory, the chief public health officer has said for privacy reasons, the territorial government will not release the name of the community where a COVID-19 case is, unless it's a larger centre. 

'It's too late to change it,' former premier says about policy, while others say people have right to know

Health officials in the N.W.T. have said if a case of COVID-19 spreads to a small community, they won't identify it in order to protect the individual's privacy. (NIAID-RML/The Associated Press/The Canadian Press)

Some territorial and community leaders in the Northwest Territories say while many disagree with the territorial Health Department's decision to withhold the name of a small community if a case of COVID-19 is confirmed there, now isn't the time to change the rules.

"This is not a time to begin to quarrel with each other about how we're handling it," said Joe Handley, former N.W.T. premier, during a panel discussion on CBC North's radio show The Trailbreaker. He said that can be done during the post-mortem.

"Let's stay the course and appeal to everybody to stay with the rule. They may disagree about small pieces of it, but stay with it ... It's too late to change it."

Former N.W.T. premier Joe Handley says it's not the time to think about changing the rules, like naming a the community that has a COVID-19 case, during the pandemic. (CBC)

Since the first case of COVID-19 was announced in the territory on March 21, chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola has said for privacy reasons, the territorial government will not release the name of the community where someone tests positive for COVID-19, unless it's a larger centre like Yellowknife, Hay River, Inuvik or Fort Smith. 

As of Monday, there are five confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the Northwest Territories, including one in Inuvik, three in Yellowknife and one in Fort Resolution. 

The case in Fort Resolution was announced April 2, but health officials didn't release the name of the community. It was later confirmed by Steve Norn, the MLA for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh. In a statement released on Facebook, Norn said it was important for people not to panic, and to take care of each other. 

That's partly why Paul Andrew, former chief of Tulita and CBC broadcaster, wants community names to be released. 

People's right to know has to override personal rights.- Paul Andrew, former chief of Tulita

"Traditionally, the people always try to help the person who is in need. And if you don't know who's in need you're going to have a hard time trying to help these individuals," he said during the panel discussion.

"We have to think about the collective rather than the individual. And it doesn't mean that we forget about the individual, but I think that the people's right to know has to override personal rights."

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People's "right to know" is a common sentiment expressed by people on social media, as well as as in two open letters written by chiefs, addressed to territorial leaders Monday. 

In one of the letters, addressed to Kandola, Deninu K'ue First Nation Chief Louis Balsillie writes that some people still aren't taking physical distancing seriously. But if they find out there's a case in their community, he said, "they may have been frightened into compliance."

But Handley worries knowing the community, which could easily lead to knowing the individual, could lead to people taking their frustrations about the pandemic out on that person and blaming them for the spread. 

"In a situation like we have now, a pandemic, we have to think of ourselves as one community for the whole territory — in fact, of Canada. We all have to work together." 

Based on an interview by Loren McGinnis, produced by Rachel Zelniker


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