K'atlodeeche First Nation Chief April Martel says the reserve is under a state of emergency after an asymptomatic person returned from outside the N.W.T. and exposed people — including Elders and children — to COVID-19 at a small gathering four days ago.
"They were out there and mingling, not using their mask when they were out of the territory, came back thinking nothing happened to them because they're fully vaccinated and they went to this party and now they've tested positive," she told CBC News.
Martel said it's a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks that when they go south, they can be lax with their masking.
The community, near Hay River, N.W.T., is awaiting rapid tests and a team of public health officials who will go straight to the exposure site and test each person, including children, Martel said.
Martel said the First Nation is asking members who are not vaccinated and who have children to immediately isolate. She's asking people to hunker down, to mask up, and take all precautions at this critical time to stop the spread of COVID-19.
While the vaccination rate on the First Nation is high, the children are unvaccinated as are a couple of Elders, said Martel.
They are also asking fully vaccinated members to self-monitor for symptoms for the next 10 days. There will also be rapid testing at the Chief Lamalice Complex, according to a post from the First Nation.
Wear a mask
Masks are now mandatory, physical distancing is required and no visiting in any home is allowed.
But masking is not a new mandate on the First Nation, said Martel.
Until now, KFN has stayed vigilant. For example, masking is necessary in the nation's store, and when you drop kids off at daycare.
"We thought we were all safe … but there's people that are being unsafe right now and they're going out of the territory without using a mask. So it's kind of a scary in between right now," said Martel.
The community is distributing food and cleaning supplies to homes so that people can continue to isolate.
Region not seriously impacted yet
So far, the N.W.T.'s latest outbreak of COVID-19 has yet to seriously impact the territory's South Slave region.
On Aug. 15, the chief public health officer reported that an out-of-territory worker in Hay River had tested positive for COVID-19, but no public exposure was identified.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the N.W.T.'s chief public health officer had not added any information related to the K'atlodeeche First Nation to its list of exposure notifications.
'Don't come home and spread the virus'
Martel said people who are travelling south need to "be mindful" that they are returning to the N.W.T., where health services are in a "critical" state.
"If you knew you were out of town partying or whatever you were doing in Alberta or B.C. or Saskatchewan … mask up," she said. "Don't come home and spread the virus."
Martel is also urging people to stay kind as those affected wait for their test results.
"I had so much negative comments yesterday, I was not very happy. I had to tell people, you know, you need to smarten up. You need to not say bad things about people," she said.
People need to cast their judgments aside, said Martel.
"They're going through a lot right now because they have to wait till the tests come back. And, you know, and it's really heartbreaking because I have to be the first one to hear about that … crying. So it made me cry yesterday because, you know, people have been so mean," she said.
The store in the community will remain open with a three-person capacity limit. Wearing a mask, sanitizing and putting on gloves is also necessary.
As of Monday evening, there were 220 active cases of COVID-19 in the Northwest Territories.
Colville Lake and Fort Good Hope remain under a containment order issued by the chief public health officer.