North·Point of View

What it's like self-isolating at a Yellowknife hotel

Catherine Pigott is a TV producer with CBC North. She recently self-isolated at a Yellowknife hotel, an option for N.W.T. residents due to the COVID-19 pandemic border restrictions, and wrote about her experience.

CBC's Catherine Pigott recently isolated at Chateau Nova after travelling to the South

CBC's Catherine Pigott takes a photo inside her Yellowknife isolation hotel where she spent nine days this month. (Catherine Pigott/CBC)

Catherine Pigott is a TV producer with CBC North. After recently travelling out of the territory, she self-isolated at a Yellowknife hotel — an option for N.W.T. residents due to the COVID-19 pandemic border restrictions — and wrote about her experience.

I'm staring out my hotel room window at the trees for the hundredth time. The hours drag by while I wait for my next meal to be delivered.

This is life in mandatory isolation at the Chateau Nova Hotel in Yellowknife, one of the territorial government's designated self-isolation centres. 

Northwest Territories residents who travel outside the North have to isolate for a full 14 days in either Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River or Fort Smith when they return. I went to Ontario for a family funeral, so now I'm one of them. 

It's given me an insider's look at the major operation the government of the Northwest Territories is running.

About 130 of us are isolating on the third and fourth floors of Chateau Nova. Room 428 has become my world. 

I live in Yellowknife, but couldn't isolate at home because my daughter works at a daycare and it was deemed too risky to be in the same house. After presenting my self-isolation plan to an intake officer at the airport's arrival terminal, I was directed to a special shuttle van where the driver is completely sealed off from passengers by plastic sheeting.

I have never felt so contagious.

The Chateau Nova Hotel in Yellowknife is one of the territorial government's designated self-isolation centres. (Catherine Pigott/CBC)

After checking in at the front desk, I'm told to visit the self-isolation help centre on the second floor, staffed by gentlemen wearing reflective orange vests with "Public Health Officer" stamped on the back. 

"Be a responsible isolator!" they say cheerfully as they hand me my welcome package, featuring isolation tips and a page of links to meditation websites.

When I finally do go out I'm shocked by how brilliant the world looks — as if I'm wearing 3D glasses.- Catherine Pigott, CBC North producer

I sit in my room feeling bleak, until I realize I could actually enjoy this: forced relaxation, forced to have three meals a day delivered to my door, every need anticipated by the help centre staff. In my package, there's a request form if I need them to run to the grocery store or the pharmacy for me. All expenses are paid because I'm an N.W.T. resident. 

No one is allowed in my room once I'm in it. CBC set up a laptop on the desk before I arrived so I could keep working. 

Inside Pigott's hotel room in Chateau Nova. (Catherine Pigott/CBC)

It's surprisingly quiet in here, except for doors slamming and calls of "room service!" three times a day.

I anticipate that knock on the door. The food comes in disposable containers in brown paper bags carefully stapled shut, handed through my half-open door by masked and gloved staff. 

A few highlights in the menu so far: pork medallions in mushroom sauce, glazed salmon, lamb and roast potatoes. The cooks are also good at chopping up last night's dinner and adding it to the next day's pasta sauce. 

Staff deliver food to people isolating at the Chateau Nova. (Catherine Pigott/CBC)

I venture to the help centre every day for more coffee filters and human contact. They have set up a table with baggies of laundry pods and dryer sheets, dish soap, granola bars and fruit cups. It's a full-time job managing us and our needs.

Some of the staff had been redeployed from other government departments — one did risk assessment for the Finance Department, another is a community planner with Municipal and Community Affairs. Now they are our minders, counsellors and concierges. 

On day four when I dropped in, they were saying goodbye to Sam from Łútselk'e at the end of his 14 days.

"Sam was a responsible isolator," one of the public health officers tells me, "and his favourite meal was the hamburger and fries."

Sam beams. "Congratulations!" I say, and I really mean it. I'm only on the fourth day, but the end seems very far away. 

An isolation centre desk at the Chateau Nova in Yellowknife. (Catherine Pigott/CBC)

It's not like we're locked in. We can take as many walks as we want. We sign out and in with the security guard on our floor every time we walk past them. They can't do anything if we refuse, but the guard tells me hardly anyone does. The occasional person gets aggressive, he says, "but that's understandable."

No security guard or public health officer can physically detain us, but they can report us. All of us are pretty good in here, walking up and down the halls in masks, nodding to one another from a safe distance. 

I think some people stay sane by spending most of their day outside in the designated self isolation smoking area. For me, it's catching up on Reality TV and documentaries on community cable. 

The view from Pigott's hotel room, where she self-isolated after travelling to the South. (Catherine Pigott/CBC)

For the first five days I don't leave the hotel. When I finally do go out I'm shocked by how brilliant the world looks — as if I'm wearing 3D glasses.

By day nine, I'm able to go home to finish isolating; my daughter's contract at the daycare is up.

I head down the hall with my luggage, past the paper bags people put outside their door after they finish a meal. That's how I know this floor is pretty full.

I stop by the help centre to say goodbye.

One of the officers is busy briefing a pair of new security guards.

I thank him for the hospitality.

"You're welcome," he says, "and please continue to be a responsible isolator. Hey, we should have T-shirts that say that!"


Catherine Pigott is a television line-up producer for CBC North, based in Yellowknife.


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