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'Stay safe, don't panic': COVID-19 case in Fort Smith, 11th case in N.W.T.

The NWT has confirmed a positive COVID-19 case in Fort Smith.

There is no risk to the public, chief public health officer said

The NWT has confirmed its 11th case of COVID-19 in Fort Smith, NWT. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Public officials in the town of Fort Smith, N.W.T. are reminding their residents to "stay calm and don't panic" after a positive COVID-19 case was confirmed in their town early Wednesday morning.

Dr. Kami Kandola, the N.W.T's chief public health officer, said in a statement Wednesday morning the individual contracted COVID-19 travelling outside of the territory. 

The individual and their family are now in "appropriate" isolation. 

She says there is no risk to the rest of the community because the household followed "appropriate self-isolation procedures." 

"The household is being monitored and public health is providing necessary supports," Kandola said in the release.

The territory will not be providing any more information, it said in the statement, to "protect the privacy" of the family. 

The case in Fort Smith is the territory's 11th positive COVID-19 case. This is the first case in the South Slave region of the N.W.T. since April and the first case in Fort Smith. 

All other COVID-19 cases in the N.W.T. have recovered. 

'It was always a matter of when' 

Lynn Napier, the mayor of Fort Smith, was on the phone with her sister in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, when she found out the news. 

Both northern communities announced their first positive COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, but both are taking different approaches. 

Rankin Inlet is prohibiting indoor gatherings and limiting any outside to a group of five people or less to contain the spread of COVID-19.   

Napier said Fort Smith is 'very fortunate' that the individual followed the protocols in place and that the family is able to contain COVID-19 in their household. 

"It's been our position that it's not a matter of if we're going to get COVID[-19] in our community, it was always a matter of when." - Lynn Napier, mayor of Fort Smith 

The town, she said, was expecting this. 

"It's been our position that it's not a matter of if we're going to get COVID[-19] in our community, it was always a matter of when," she told CBC. 

She's reminding people to continue respecting the N.W.T.'s public health guidelines, because more cases could be on the way. 

"Be kind — we're going to have more cases in Fort Smith, we're going to have more cases around the country," Napier said. 

"Be responsible, follow the rules and don't put people in situations that will put them at risk." 

Businesses conduct full sanitation on Remembrance Day 

The news of the positive COVID-19 case came two hours before a physically-distanced Remembrance Day ceremony was supposed to take place at the town's cenotaph. 

The ceremony, with only a handful in attendance to place wreaths, went on ahead as planned, with members of the community watching online. 

Across town, businesses started reacting to the news. 

Staff at the local Tim Hortons and Petro Gas stations took the day to sanitize everything at the store. 

They are also putting in place new public health measures, including mandatory masks and rubber gloves, as of their re-opening Thursday morning. 

"COVID-19 has arrived in Fort Smith, and we're not going to take any chances." - David Poitras, chief of Salt River First Nation 

David Poitras, chief of the Salt River First Nation who is in charge of those two businesses, told CBC he has nothing but the safety of his people in mind. 

"COVID-19 has arrived in Fort Smith, and we're not going to take any chances," he said. 

Shortly after, Fort Smith's Northern Store followed suit. 

"Our team will spend the day ensuring we are providing a safe and sanitary environment for you," manager Kevin MacDonald posted to the community's Facebook page. "Please be prepared to follow protocols we put in place." 

Mayor Napier said she respects the measures that businesses are taking to keep their community safe, and reminded residents to comply with the new rules. 

No communication from GNWT about positive case 

Poitras and Gerry Cheezie, chief of Smith's Landing First Nation, said no one from the government contacted them directly about the positive COVID-19 case in Fort Smith. 

Cheezie said he heard the news through the media, right as people started calling him to find out more information about whether the community is safe. 

"I don't like hearing about incidents like this second-hand or third-hand." - Gerry Cheezie, chief of Smith's Landing First Nation 

He said he needs the territory's task force to communicate this kind of information directly with local leadership. 

"I don't like hearing about incidents like this second-hand or third-hand," Cheezie told CBC. 

"I'm one of the community leaders, and we want to make sure that we are kept informed so that we can answer questions when our members call us." 

More enforcement required, say chiefs

The territory has a 14-day mandatory isolation period in place for those travelling to the territory from elsewhere. 

Poitras said he's heard many cases in Fort Smith where people break the mandatory isolation period, but there is little enforcement from the territory. 

"When they get phone calls, they should react," Poitras said. "They have a … fine that they can use, and they should be using it whenever possible." 

Cheezie and Poitras said they also want to see more enforcement at the border crossing just south of Enterprise, N.W.T. to make sure people are following protocols as they come into the territory during the winter. 

"There's no immediate need to review our approach." - Mike Westwick, spokesperson for the N.W.T's COVID-19 response team 

"I think we've got to tell our people that travelling to Alberta, that is now, under a huge spike of infections, dangerous," Cheezie said. 

Mike Westwick, a spokesperson for the N.W.T's COVID-19 response team, said the territory's protocols "worked quite well" in this case. 

"There's no immediate need to review our approach," he told CBC Wednesday afternoon, responding to a question about whether to tighten border controls with Alberta. 

The Department of Health will not be providing any more information about the individual to protect their privacy.

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