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Covid exasperation flowing in Rankin Inlet council

Councillor dubs Nunavut’s top doc “King Patterson,”
Coun. Daniel Kowmuk suggested schools be cut to 50-per-cent attendance at a time to limit the spread of Covid. Other members of council pushed back. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo

An open discussion on Covid policies in Rankin Inlet’s council saw both ends of the debate’s spectrum.

On one, Coun. Daniel Kowmuk said the number of cases in Rankin Inlet was concerning him, and he suggested increased restrictions around schools.

“I’m worried about our kids going to school 100 per cent, especially when there’s Covid going like crazy right now,” he said. “It’s going to get worse.”

He added that the government needs to slow down and work harder to educate people.

“It’s not fun losing a loved one due to Covid,” he said.

Kowmuk suggested that for students, “homeschool will do,” which triggered a laugh from Coun. Kelly Lindell.

She said she understands there are a lot of cases right now, “but having kids home for weeks and weeks and weeks and expecting parents to do their job plus homeschool, plus keep them entertained – you’re asking for the impossible.”

She suggested people continue to be careful and stay home if sick, but noted that vaccinated and unvaccinated people are both getting sick.

“How long are we going to shut down and stop life?” asked Lindell. “Because it’s been two years of Covid now.”

She said people want to make money, plan trips and go to school.

“I can’t do lockdown anymore,” said the councillor.

Kowmuk responded that, “once upon a time, I used to be a parent too,” and said he understands where Lindell is coming from.

Though he stuck to his suggestion of splitting students 50-50 throughout the day, Kowmuk emphasized that it was just a suggestion.

Senior administrative officer Darren Flynn said Covid has had an impact on staffing in the hamlet. He listed off a number of people in isolation at the time, including multiple staff in bylaw and finance.

Two staff were on a “work-to-home-to-work” exemption, where they had positive cases of Covid in their homes, but they were allowed to work if they went straight to their jobs and straight home without interacting with anyone. Those workers had to go home just to use the bathroom under that policy. As of the Feb. 14 council meeting, though both workers had Covid in their homes, neither had tested positive themselves.

Flynn also said the Government of Nunavut’s case numbers were somewhat misleading because of how infrequently recoveries were posted and the lack of testing. Once rapid tests are available at home across the territory, Flynn suggested there could be thousands of positives.

All hamlet staff are vaccinated, but not all volunteers, he added.

Coun. Justin Merritt said the science on Omicron seems to indicate it spreads faster but also dies out faster, and he said it’s better for youth to be in school and playing sports.

“I’m not saying nobody’s going to die,” he said, going on to criticize the policy of sending Nunavummiut mine workers home while the mines fly in southern replacements.

Merritt said people should be going to work.

“Work makes you feel like something,” said Merritt.

But chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson “doesn’t care,” he added, suggesting Nunavut’s top doctor is overpaid.

“I’m sick of these people from Iqaluit telling us what to do,” he said.

Merritt said he doesn’t feel like he’s following the Premier’s rules in Nunavut, but those of “King Patterson,” as he dubbed him.

Mayor Harry Towtongie said he’s hearing from residents that the government should consider treating Covid like the flu now, and that if people are worried, they can get their vaccination.

“I don’t know why we’re having to be so scared,” he said, adding that he was getting bothered by the idea of penalizing youth with some of the restrictions.

Flynn added that Rankin Inlet’s vaccine passport bylaw would be dead once the government declares the state of emergency is over.