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'It hit us hard:' Life in lockdown for N. W. T communities hit hard by COVID-19

Tommy Kakfwi says walking through Fort Good Hope in the Northwest Territories is a bit like being in a graveyard. 

The community of about 500 people has 89 cases of COVID-19, so one of every five or six residents is infected. It has been under a lockdown order since Aug. 15.

"It's quiet. Even the dogs are quiet," Kakfwi, the community's chief, told The Canadian Press. 

The N.W.T. is dealing with its worst outbreak of COVID-19 to date. As of Thursday, there were 265 cases spread across 11 communities, most of them in the territory's Sahtu region in the northwest.

The Canadian Rangers, along with Canadian Red Cross nurses, were sent last week into communities with active cases to try to help contain the spread. 

For the most part, Kakfwi said, people in Fort Good Hope are following public health orders thanks to what he calls a "COVID cop," a man who grew up in the community and who has been contracted to ensure people follow the rules.

"There's no nonsense about him. He speaks the dialect and he knows everybody." 

However, as time goes on, it's starting to be difficult for residents not to be out on the land as they normally would this time of year, Kakfwi said.

"Because they're so nomadic, I don't know how much longer they can hold onto their calmness before they start getting itchy feet," he said.

Residents will soon need more supplies like food and diapers delivered.

Kakfwi said he always expected COVID-19 to come to Fort Good Hope, but he never imagined it could be this bad. 

"It hit us and it hit us hard."

Colville Lake, where half of the population has COVID-19, is also under a lockdown order. As of Thursday, 76 out of its roughly 150 residents were infected.

David Codzi of Colville Lake said his wife and their two young children all have COVID-19.

Codzi, who is fully vaccinated, said he wore a mask and slept in a different room from his family members, who isolated for 10 days.

"They were sick, but the kids are doing way better now."

When the outbreak started, Codzi said, it was difficult to keep the community running with so many people in isolation.

"The sewage guy got sick. Then the garbage guy. Then the water guy."

It's hard for residents to be indoors for so long, he added. "It's like a really cold winter day, but for days on end, and you can't go out."

Despite the high infection numbers, people are strictly following orders and Chief Wilbert Kochon expects things to calm down in the next couple of weeks.

"Our elders always say, once it gets through, it never comes back," he said.

Like Kakfwi, Kochon said he never expected COVID-19 to hit his community so hard. 

"It's kind of a surprise. We knew something was coming, but we didn't know when."

He said the community has pulled together. Residents are taking food to people in isolation and, last week, two hunters caught two moose and some fish and delivered the food door to door. 

"It's so much better than store-bought food," Kochon said. 

Kochon's uncle, Gabe Kochon, died of COVID-19 earlier this week in Yellowknife's hospital. He was the first person in the territory to die from the virus. The Dene elder was 92. 

"He was healthy when he left. It was very sad," Kochon said. 

He said most of the community's positive cases are in people who are unvaccinated. The Sahtu region, which contains both Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake, has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the territory.

In Colville Lake, 29 per cent of people 12 and older are fully vaccinated. It's 64 per cent in Colville Lake.

"I think we're going to learn something from this and we're going to move forward," Kochon said. "We have to help one another."

On Wednesday, the N.W.T. extended lockdown orders in Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake until Sept. 4. Schools are not expected to open in either community until the order is lifted.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 27, 2021.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook-Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press

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