'Absolutely nothing but a window to look out of': Yellowknife woman describes isolation room

·3 min read
A Yellowknife woman is isolating in the government run isolation facility at the Aspen Apartment building. She said the room consists of nothing but a cot and TV that doesn't have any channels.  (Submitted - image credit)
A Yellowknife woman is isolating in the government run isolation facility at the Aspen Apartment building. She said the room consists of nothing but a cot and TV that doesn't have any channels. (Submitted - image credit)

A Yellowknife woman who tested negative to COVID-19 twice still finds herself in an government run isolation facility that basically consists of a single cot in an empty room.

The woman requested anonymity, which CBC granted, because she is seeking employment within the territorial government's Health Department, and was concerned about her comments affecting her chances.

The woman is currently at the Aspen Apartments on 51 Street, which is furnished with a cot, a single blanket, a TV that isn't hooked up to cable, a Brita water filter but no glasses, and a chair but no table. She said there is also no hand soap.

"When I got here, there was absolutely no amenities whatsoever to make a person comfortable," she said.

"Absolutely nothing but a window to look out of."

She said the food often comes cold and she has no microwave to heat it up again.

Her only relief from the boredom comes from the occasional cigarette break.

The woman says she is being forced to isolate because two of her roommates tested positive for COVID-19 and she began developing symptoms. She has been at the Aspen Apartments since Jan. 10, and is required to stay for 10 days.

She said she's unsure of why she couldn't just isolate in her apartment especially after testing negative, and she hasn't heard back from public health in days.

She said there's no phone in the apartment, which could be dangerous for those without cell phones.

The woman said the situation is made more stressful because she has had to take time off her job as a cashier and is unsure of how she will pay her rent next month.

Hilary Bird/CBC
Hilary Bird/CBC

Safety over entertainment

Dennis Marchiori is the director of compliance and enforcement operations with the territorial Department of Health and Social Services.

In an interview with CBC News, he said he recognizes that some of the accommodations may be lacking entertainment, but he said that isn't the government's priority.

"While some of our locations are bare … we need to be able to provide a location for someone to shelter and be able to get them soon, so some of them do not have all the amenities," Marchiori said.

He said Aspen Apartments was a particularly difficult situation as the building is owned by the federal government and its transition to an isolation facility was very sudden.

"So to have to set something up like that in a weekend, like we did, it's very limited to what we have in there," he said.

"But our big thing is trying to provide safety to Yellowknife and N.W.T. residents that have to use it, to be able to keep a roof over their head."

Marchiori said the department, like all organizations across the country, are dealing with staffing issues related to the Omicron variant.

Try and have some patience with us, because things are moving very quickly. - Dennis Marchiori, director with the Department of Health and Social Services

"Primarily they are human resource related … because even our people who are taking the necessary precautions to try and be safe can still get sick," he said.

"Try and have some patience with us, because things are moving very quickly."

When asked about phone connections for isolation facilities, he said Northwestel is also dealing with staffing issues as a result of the outbreak.

He said they are trying to issue loaner cell phones, but are running low on supplies.

But Conrad Baetz, the director of policy and corporate services with the COVID Secretariat, said the department will make sure every isolation facility user has some sort of device to contact the outside world.

That's a safety thing," he said. "We will make sure that there's the ability to communicate."

This woman isolating at the Aspen Apartments is not the first person to contact the CBC about their concerns around isolation accommodations in Yellowknife.

CBC News requested an interview with Premier Caroline Cochrane, who is in charge of the COVID Secretariat, but that request recieved no response.

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