Self-isolation hotel is a ‘free-for-all,’ says Yellowknife truck driver

Kevin Bentson wrapped up two weeks at an isolation hotel in Yellowknife on Saturday. 

He was uneasy much of the time. 

“I constantly saw people come and go that were isolating,” said Bentson. “There’s people going into each other’s rooms and partying. It’s like a free-for-all, with no control.” 

Bentson, a truck driver, was returning from a medical appointment in B.C. He couldn’t isolate at home because he has a roommate. 

His uneasiness at the hotel began the moment he left the airport. 

“We all piled into cabs,” he said of his fellow self-isolators. “There was no real regulation of where we went once we left the airport.” 

Bentson was also surprised he was given permission to take a cab to pick up his truck from a local auto shop, something he did anyway because driving around gave him something to do during his two weeks. 

He spent much of that time smoking outdoors, going for walks, sitting in his truck in the parking lot, or observing the goings on of fellow self-isolators. 

“You know, you’re stuck there and you talk to everybody and find out their story, where they came from,” he said. “You kind of get to know people.” 

He says he saw people he knew to be self-isolating interacting with others, and among themselves. Bentson says people generally wore masks, but did little else to follow distancing protocols. 

“There’s no real enforcement outside of untrained security guards that really all they do is write down the time you leave your room and when you come back.” 

‘Support and encourage’ those isolating

In a written response, government spokesperson Mike Westwick said the rules for those self-isolating are “explicit,” but people still have rights, and some, inevitably, will break the rules.  

“It’s a big sacrifice,” Westwick said of self-isolation. “And what we would say to those who may choose to pressure folks to sneak in a visit while they’re required to be self-isolating is to instead open your arms and support and encourage them as they make that sacrifice for the safety of our communities.”

Westwick also said security staff were “not directed to closely monitor every person as though it were a prison.” 

He instead encouraged people who witness someone breaking the rules to report the behaviour to staff at the self-isolation centre, or to Protect NWT. 

Westwick did not address the use of cabs to transport those self-isolating to hotels, but he did say staff are on hand to tackle personal errands 

‘It made me furious’

Bentson said he complained to staff, and at the end of his stay, wrote a complaint for Protect NWT. 

“It made me furious,” he said. “We have such a high elder population in the N.W.T., with such a lack of medical care. If an outbreak happens, it’s gonna be unfathomable, the consequences.” 

Bentson has another medical appointment this month, but this time he plans to use a friend’s cabin to isolate. 

“Because I don’t feel safe,” he said. “It feels like I have more of a chance to get COVID[-19] at the isolation centre than I did in Vancouver or if I stayed somewhere else.”