Yellowknife residents scramble to cover childcare, staffing after COVID-19 closes schools

·4 min read
N.J. Macpherson School in Yellowknife. Territorial health officials ordered all schools in Yellowknife to close until further notice on May 2 following a COVID-19 outbreak at the school.  ( Liny Lamberink/CBC - image credit)
N.J. Macpherson School in Yellowknife. Territorial health officials ordered all schools in Yellowknife to close until further notice on May 2 following a COVID-19 outbreak at the school. ( Liny Lamberink/CBC - image credit)

Yellowknife parents and businesses are scrambling to make childcare and work arrangements after territorial health officials ordered all schools to close until further notice on Sunday following a COVID-19 outbreak at N.J. Macpherson School.

Schools in Ndilo and Dettah are also covered by the order.

Karen Rawson, director of child and family programs with Yellowknife Women's Society, told CBC on Monday that things were "a little bit wild and crazy" at the society's two daycares — Raven's Nest and the Centre for Northern Families.

Three staff members who are also parents couldn't come in because they're self-isolating, she said, and about a third of the daycares' children also didn't attend for the same reason.

"I'm a little past overwhelmed," Rawson said. "I mean, obviously, it's been an exhausting year for everybody. I'm sad that we're having to do this again … I'm sad for children to have to be off of school again."

The Co-op grocery store in Yellowknife. General manager Justin Nelson told CBC there was 'no one' in the store Monday morning and that he was short-staffed after territorial health officials ordered the closing of all Yellowknife schools until further notice on Sunday.
The Co-op grocery store in Yellowknife. General manager Justin Nelson told CBC there was 'no one' in the store Monday morning and that he was short-staffed after territorial health officials ordered the closing of all Yellowknife schools until further notice on Sunday.(Liny Lamerlink/CBC)

Meanwhile, Justin Nelson, Yellowknife Co-op general manager, said there was "no one" in the store Monday morning, with several staff members unable to work due to childcare obligations or being close contacts with students at N.J. Macpherson or École St. Patrick High School.

The latter was subject to a COVID-19 exposure notice late last month, with letters issued to 40 contacts and their families.

"These aren't challenges that we can plan for — they just happen, right?" Nelson said. "So you just all of a sudden find out that so and so's little brother goes to N.J. Macpherson or St. Pat's … That part, we're struggling a little bit on."

Nelson said the store saw a roughly 15 per cent boost in sales over the weekend, which he attributed to "people getting scared and wanting to have food at home," but not to the same degree as the "panic-buying" that took place early on in the pandemic.

Nelson was also personally impacted by the school closures, with three of his children at home from school. However, he added that he considered himself lucky since two of them are old enough to be at home alone and to watch the youngest.

"Some parents aren't that lucky, right? They have younger children than mine," he said. "So it's … going to be difficult for them."

Remote learning starts Wednesday

In notes to parents, the superintendents for both Yellowknife Catholic Schools and Yellowknife Education District No. 1 said that staff are currently "working to ensure the structures and resources are in place for learning at home," with more details to come at 4 p.m. and remote learning expected to begin on Wednesday.

Simon Cloutier, president of the Northwest Territories' French school board, told CBC he found out about the order to close schools around 8:30 p.m. on Sunday and that École Allain St-Cyr will mirror its English counterparts by switching to remote learning by Wednesday.

While he said he understood the public health reasons behind the closure, he said he felt bad for students who are already being negatively impacted by the pandemic.

"It's been a very tough year of learning for them," Cloutier said. "Last year, schools were closed for a few months and now this year, we were doing pretty well, but now having to close again and send everyone back home and learn from home, it's not easy."

At this point, Cloutier said it's unclear how long staff and students will have to work and learn from home.

Closing 'the responsible thing to do,' one business says

At least one Yellowknife business is choosing to temporarily close its doors in the wake of the current COVID-19 situation. In an emailed statement, Birchwood Coffee Ko co-owner Jawah Scott said that closing for the week seemed "like the responsible thing to do," noting that staff would continue to be paid for full-time work during the closure.

"Lots of people are in isolation, the schools are closed, and people are being told to stay home as much as possible. We want to be proactive and help in a small way to help us all get through this safely," Scott said in the statement.

The shop is expected to open again on May 10.