State of emergency declared in Fort Good Hope, says chief

A state of emergency has been declared in Fort Good Hope after the community was placed under a containment order because of an outbreak of COVID-19.

Chief Tommy Kakfwi says community is overwhelmed by COVID-19 outbreak

Fort Good Hope Chief Tommy Kakfwi said the community declared a state of emergency Monday. (Submitted by Tommy Kakfwi)

Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., Chief Tommy Kakfwi reported Monday that the community has declared a state of emergency. 

The Sahtu region community of just over 500 people had 21 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one probable case as of Monday evening.

Fort Good Hope has so far been hardest hit in a cluster affecting the Sahtu region. 

The infections were announced Sunday and are believed to be connected to a hand games tournament in the community earlier this month. 

In addition to the cases in Fort Good Hope, infections have been confirmed in Colville Lake, Délı̨nę, Inuvik and Yellowknife, all related to travel to the Fort Good Hope tournament. 

With high infection rates and few resources, Kakfwi said the community "had no choice," but to declare a state of emergency.

"We need help right now, we have a staggering number for a small population," he said. "We don't have a lot of resources to meet our needs."

We need help right now, we have a staggering number for a small population.- Chief Tommy Kakfwi of Fort Good Hope

Though he wasn't sure of the community's exact staffing numbers, he said the community is severely understaffed and is asking the minister and territorial government for support. 

"Everybody wants a quick fix and we can't meet that demand," he said. "You can only do so much and it creates anxiety in the community."

While the Fort Good Hope and the surrounding Sahtu region manage the outbreak, he's asking all residents to comply with public health protocols.

"We will overcome this situation, but we can only do it with everybody's co-operation."

The territorial government wasn't immediately available for comment on the state of emergency, but in an interview on CBC's Trail's End about the outbreak in the region, Health Minister Julie Green said her department is reaching out to the federal government for support. 

"We know that we're going to be really strained with contact tracing, testing and other front-line public health functions, so we are looking for additional resources from the federal government and will make an application that spells that out," Green said. 

She said the request would be sent out within 24 hours. 

2 ICU beds available

The territory doesn't have much capacity to handle a wave of hospitalizations. Green said there are just two available ICU beds at Stanton Territorial Hospital, meaning other people who need ventilators and intensive care may have to be medevaced to Alberta.

"We were very fortunate ... in the NJ [Macpherson School] outbreak, to have no hospitalizations. I don't know if we'll be as lucky twice, but let's hope." 

Green said the strain that's circulating in the Sahtu is "aggressive," and is believed to be the delta variant. She said health officials have sent samples south to confirm that.

The main concern right now, said Green, is ensuring people who have symptoms are reporting to their local health centre for testing and are self-isolating with their family bubbles. 

She also said vaccines are available in every community and encouraged people to get their shots.

"[The] vaccine is the best defence against this virus," said Green.

Vaccine hesitancy in the Sahtu

The vaccine campaign in the Sahtu "is not going as well as it is in other places in the N.W.T.," said Green. 

The minister said she didn't have an explanation for vaccine hesitancy in the region.

"We have tried to answer questions and provide information, and we haven't made very much headway at all, and I'm disappointed with that," she said.

"At the same time, this is a voluntary program, and so we're just going to keep making the offer that the vaccine is available and hope that people will take us up on that offer."