Iqaluit resident returning from trauma treatment says hotel quarantine felt like 'jail'

For Iqaluit resident Pauline Alainga, the disappointment started the minute she walked in the door of her hotel room.

Alainga was on her way home from two months in trauma treatment when she entered a two-week quarantine at the Residence Inn in Ottawa.

"I walked into my room and it was so filthy," she said. "I ended up cleaning my room for four and a half hours."  

"I really was very disgusted. I guess [hotel staff] are cleaning fast because they keep filling up. My tub was black. I will be writing a letter to the minister of health."  

Anyone travelling to Nunavut must first spend two weeks in self-isolation at approved hotels in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Yellowknife. Health officials say the quarantine rule is the main reason that COVID-19 has not come to Nunavut. 

It's a voluntary process, according to the government of Nunavut. But anyone who wants to board a flight to the territory must have signed proof from the Health Department that they've undergone quarantine at one of those hotels.

Isolation in hotels hard on mental health, patient says 

Alainga said she felt fine when she began quarantine, but the two weeks was hard on her mental wellness and she spoke with fellow travellers who were feeling the same way. 

People in self-isolation may only go outside when allowed by security. Alainga said she walked laps around the parking area, but the smoking section was dirty from overuse. 

Lunch and supper were delivered at the same time, with supper to be reheated later. Alainga said the food was left in a loosely closed Styrofoam container on the carpet outside her door. 

"A lot of us Inuit are known to eat on the floor when we gather together, but we eat on a clean surface," she said. "It was insulting that they delivered our food to the floor." 

Alainga found herself helping other residents learn how to order food through Northern Shopper, an online service. She lent her own credit card to people who didn't have one. 

Submitted by Pauline Alainga

She's stayed at the Residence Inn before and her experience was much more positive. 

"I cried a lot because of the way we were treated," she said. "Two days before I left the security guard started yelling at me, pointing in my face, telling me to go back to my room. I started crying because it was scary."

"I cried a lot because of the way we were treated," she said. "It was very depressing.... We were like in jail."

According to the Health Department, mental health staff are on site at hotels in Ottawa, Winnipeg and Yellowknife for check-ins and referrals by nurses.  

"I was the one who was communicating this government policy change between people that were supposed to be making sure that I was OK." - Eva Taché-Green, quarantine traveller

"In-person mental health support will be available at the Edmonton hub soon," the department said in an email. "Guests are provided the 24-hour crisis line that connects them directly with the mental health and addiction team in Nunavut and they can call at any time." 

Confusion hurts residents, quarantined traveller says 

Another Iqaluit traveller, Eva Taché-Green, spent 18 days in quarantine, after being told that flights were staggered to separate residents and essential workers, who are held to a different series of restrictions and were not required to quarantine.

But when she got on the plane, there were essential workers on board. All passengers had masks, but the plane was full, with no room to space passengers out, she said.  

Before that rescheduled flight, she was given different reasons for the delay by government and hotel staff, as well as nurses and mental health workers. She was told the delay was wrong and told it was right.  

"I thought it was very weird that I was the one who was communicating this government policy change between people that were supposed to be making sure that I was OK," Taché-Green said. "I was so disappointed with the way they were communicating the changes to me." 

Nunavut's Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, said last week that the mandatory two-week quarantine for residents returning from the south will stay in place until community transmission dies down.

The department did announce that medical trips to Yellowknife will no longer require a quarantine before returning to Nunavut, as long as the patient has only travelled to the Northwest Territories.