Las Vegas Strip is seeing a tourism surge again: ‘It’s like somebody turned on a light switch’

Scott Sibella, president of Resorts World Las Vegas, says it has been a tough year, but he is optimistic about how the city is recovering with the current leisure travel boom. Until domestic and international business travel returns, however, the hospitality industry will continue to struggle with low weekday visitor numbers.

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Attention Turned to Fort De Soto Park After Dog the Bounty Hunter Tip

A tip from reality TV star Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman placed newfound attention in the search for Brian Laundrie on Fort De Soto Park, a vast wildlife park in Pinellas County, Florida, where he was allegedly seen in early September.

Laundrie, 23, has been named a “person of interest” in the disappearance of his fiancé Gabby Petito, whose remains were found in Wyoming on September 19 after the two went on a cross-country road trip. He has not been seen since his parents reported him missing in Florida almost two weeks ago.

On Monday night, Chapman told Fox News that he received information that Laundrie spent time in Fort De Soto park with his parents in early September after he returned to Florida without Petito.

Chapman alleged that Laundrie and his parents, Chris and Roberta, entered the park on September 6, but only two people left the park on September 8—leaving room for theories that Laundrie was assisted by his parents and could still be located in the park.

“They were registered, went through the gate. They’re on camera. They were here,” Chapman told Fox News on Monday evening. “We think at least if he’s not here right now, we are sure he was caught on camera as he went in the gate—that he was here for sure. Not over in the swamp.”

“Allegedly, what we’re hearing, is two people left on the 8th. Three people came in on the 6th, and two people left on the 8th. I think he’s been here for sure.”

Fort De Soto Park is located about 75 miles away from the Laundries’ home on Wabasso Avenue in North Port. In February, Petito shared an image of her and Laundrie together at a campground in the park. In the photo, the couple is seen standing behind a barred window, prompting some social media users to comment that Laundrie better get “used to” being locked up that way.

“This is exactly where you will end up,” another social media user said, according to the New York Post.

The couple later posted a review of the park on the travel website The Dyrt, describing it as a “really nice campground, beautiful area with many hikes and easy walks, the beach, historic sites, really nice camp store and well maintained sites!,” according to Fox News.

Though Chapman’s latest allegation has turned attention to the more than 1,130-acre park, a spokesman from the Pinellas Sheriff’s Office said police are not actively searching Fort De Soto at this time.

“At this point, we’re not conducting an investigation in Fort De Soto,” said Travis Sibley, a spokesman from the Pinellas Sheriff’s Office told the Tampa Bay Times. “We are not aware of any confirmed sightings of Brian.”

According to the park’s website, Fort De Soto is the largest park located within the Pinellas County Park System and contains five interconnected islands. The park also contains more than seven miles of waterfront and an “800-foot-long boat launching facility with eleven floating docks.”

Here is an aerial view of Ft. De Soto campground.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office says they are not conducting an investigation there and are unaware of any confirmed sightings of Brian Laundrie.
Thanks for the visuals @8_plamison @WFLA

— Brian Entin (@BrianEntin) September 28, 2021

Laundrie’s parents have vehemently denied any knowledge of or involvement in their son’s disappearance.

“The speculation by the public and some in the press that the parents assisted Brian in leaving the family home or in avoiding arrest on a warrant that was issued after Brian had already been missing for several days is just wrong,” Attorney Steven Bertolino, who is representing Laundrie’s parents, said in a statement.

Anyone with information on Laundrie’s whereabouts is asked to contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI or 303-629-7171.

Newsweek has contacted the Laundries’ attorney for an updated statement on the case.

Gabby Petito Memorial
Reality TV star Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman believes search efforts for Brian Laundrie should be focused on Fort De Soto Park. A makeshift memorial dedicated to missing woman Gabby Petito is located near City Hall on September 20, 2021 in North Port, Florida.
Octavio Jones/Getty Images

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A bear attack turned deadly this summer. 6 tips for staying safe when visiting the outdoors.

“When people are hiking through the Bob Marshall [Wilderness Area], or through Yellowstone Park or through Glacier, they have just got to realize that it’s, in essence, like stepping back in time,” Jonkel says, describing how there are more grizzly bears, black bears and mountain lions in these wilderness areas than in the past 100 years. Just like any good time traveler, outdoor adventurers should pack with potential challenges in mind.

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Covid travel news: Ryanair passenger turned away from Alicante flight | UK | News

And Richard was one of the latest to fall foul of this rule at Manchester Airport on May 19. He hoped to visit a bank with personal documentation and carry out urgent works on a property near Alicante, reports Manchester Evening News.

The dad of four claims Ryanair failed to state on its website the need for either a Spanish residency permit or a letter from the Government saying the trip was essential.

Richard, of Stockport, Greater Manchester, states he was instead advised to prove he’d been tested and provide evidence of reasons for travel, before being directed during online check-in to a questionnaire hosted by the Spanish authorities.

“They needed to make it clear that the only exception to having Spanish residency is permission from the Government,” he said.

Now Ryanair refuse to answer or address customers and their customer services helpline doesn’t even acknowledge the problem.

“They have continued to offer good and reliable services through he pandemic which should bring them plaudits and praise. Instead they manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by reverting to type and just ignoring their customers, treating them with some disdain.

“Nobody minds if you get something wrong provided you do your best to put it right. We are allowed to make mistakes during a pandemic but when you do you have to hold your hands up.”

The dad, who booked his £109 outbound ticket for Alicante on Ryanair’s website, claims he followed the guidance for travel.

These included the completion of a Spanish Government questionnaire, a PCR test, and a QR code from the Spanish Government Ministerio de Sanidad.

He also arrived at the airport, armed with letters from notary in Spain, Santander bank and a building contractor he had business with.

However, a handling agent at the airport refused Richard, telling him the airline would be fined £500 for every passenger sent back from Spain.

Richard, who is semi-retired from the insurance business, said: “All nine of us had followed the advice and directions set out by the airline.

“I could clearly evidence the trip was for business and it was urgent I travel.

“I’m not doing this for self-promotion, I’m doing this for all of us because we can’t get a response from Ryanair.

“Just ignoring us is poor – I don’t want a refund, I just want credit for another flight.”

He added: “When I try and get in touch I just get ‘Molly the Bot’, who tells me someone will get back in 48 hours. Well, I’ve spoken to Molly the Bot every day since then and she’s not referring me to anybody.”

Richard says easyJet, with whom he’d booked a return flight, has already offered an alternative date.

Before Monday May 24, anyone travelling to Spain had to prove they had Spanish residency at the airport check-in.

Without a residency permit, airlines could not allow passengers to board.

This is now no longer a requirement as Spain has opened its borders to visitors from countries that have low infection rates, including Britain.

However, the country does remain on the UK’s amber list, so returning Britons must quarantine.

Ryanair has been approached for comment regarding Richard’s case.

Speaking abnout the guidelines previously, a spokesman said: “Ryanair fully complies with Government restrictions.

“A number of passengers on this flight from Nottingham to Malaga on Friday, 21 May were denied boarding as they failed to meet the entry requirements for Spain in line with Spanish Govt regulation.

“Any passenger scheduled to travel anywhere on the Ryanair network receives an email prior to departure, advising them to check the travel advice with the relevant authorities in advance of their flight.”

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7 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Turned 50

TravelAwaits’ editors are proud to curate the stories and insights of inspirational women who live, work, and travel all over the world. From RVing Alaska to living on a cattle ranch in the Zambian bush, our women writers represent beautiful and thrilling diversity. And they have something in common: They’re over 50.

In 2004, the blockbuster 13 Going on 30 gave us “Thirty and flirty and thriving” (thank you, young Jenna Rink/Jennifer Garner), and one of my favorite fashion influencers, Aeberhard Stutz (a New Zealander based in Zurich) of FunkyForty has built an entire brand — and magazine — around the conviction that, “After all, 40 something is still young!”

But thinking about our 50s? For many of us, that invites the M word — menopause — out of the shadows and into our conscious minds. And it can come with a slew of misconceptions and fears. Lucky for us, and our readers, in addition to being inspired by our adventurous women writers on the daily, we’ve also partnered with women-led intimacy product company Kindra to spark real, unabridged conversations around menopause.

Last month, we explored the surprising mental signs of menopause from trouble sleeping to forgetfulness. This month, some of our 50+ contributors are sharing the things they wish they’d known about menopause before turning 50. Prepare to be surprised, delighted, and educated by their insights.

Group Of Mature Female Friends Walking Along Path Through Yurt Campsite
Image: Monkey Business Images, Shutterstock

1. Let Go Of What Other People Think

Cindy Ladage of Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl is a regular TravelAwaits contributor who’s shared advice on topics from her all-time favorite bakeries in Illinois to tips for visiting a flea market for the first time.

What she wishes she’d known before turning 50: to let go of what other people think. “There are so many decisions that women make based on what they think they should do rather than what they want to do. While of course duty demands we make some decisions based on love or just plain necessity, if we throw out the worry of public opinion, I think of how much happier we would be at a younger age. Growing older is a freeing thing because many of us allow ourselves to be who we want to be.”

Want to experience that 50+ freedom Cindy’s referring to? Check out Kindra’s Navigating Stress and Managing Moods in Menopause blog post and shop The Core Dietary Supplement, which contains Pycnogenol® and ashwagandha to support mental clarity, skin suppleness, healthy circulation, stress reduction, and your libido!

2. Don’t Count Yourself Out

Ann Marie McQueen, a Canadian journalist, moved to the United Arab Emirates in 2008 to help launch The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi. She never thought she’d stay this long, but she loves “living in the middle of the world in a country that is host to more than 200 nationalities.”

She’s traveled to over 40 countries since relocating, and in addition to freelancing, she’s launched hotflash inc, a platform about getting older and going through menopause.

Ann Marie’s birthday is just a few days away. “I turn 51 on May 28,” she told us, “and could not be more excited about my life. It’s not perfect of course. But I have a real purpose with hotflash inc, which I am building into my own business, and I have dealt with a lot of the trauma and poor coping mechanisms that held me back when I was young. I’m not through menopause yet, but I already feel a real freedom and it’s amazing. All the older women I meet tell me it only gets better, which is why my tagline is ‘This is going somewhere good.’”

She also shared, “What I wish I’d known before I was 50 (and much much earlier) is not to count myself out: from the guy, from the job, from the thing that’s in your heart that you want to do.”

“One more thing I’d like my younger self to know: Don’t stuff down your feelings. It won’t kill you to sit through some tough emotions; it will make you more honest, stronger, and, when you learn how, dramatically reduce the anxiety you are feeling.”

Not sure where you are in your journey toward, through, or beyond menopause? Take Kindra’s Hormone Assessment Quiz.

Want to be ready for anything — from the guy to the job to that thing on your heart that you really want to do, as Ann Marie puts it? Consider Kindra’s Ready for Anything Bundle, which includes Pycnogenol®, vitamin E, coconut oil, and green tea leaf extract in The Daily Vaginal Lotion, plus medical grade silicone, easy grip The Aurora Applicator, and their Energy Boosting Dietary Supplement.

Best friends in summer on the beach girls
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

3. “Your Mom Wasn’t Crazy”

“And you’re not, either,” author Kimberly King told us. She was talking about hot flashes.

“Don’t laugh at people with hot flashes! They are real! And they are impossible to control. So don’t stare or joke if you see one happening! And if you get one yourself, breathe and remember it is just part of this uncomfortable process. You are not alone and it will pass! They always do!”

Elizabeth Green, a 72-year-old, British-born author and entrepreneur who now calls New York City home (and recently participated in a Juicy Mountain Rustic Health Retreat in Turkey) seconded that. “I’ve lived on three continents, but thank God during menopause I was at home in my own bed. Now you’ve got me wondering how do women in such a hot place as India, where I lived for two years, deal with the sweats and hot flushes!”

Senior woman doing yoga exercises with beautiful mountain view on the background
Image: kudla, Shutterstock

4. Cool Down And Warm Up With These Tips

Beyond espousing hot flash empathy, Kimberly told us she’s 51 and “right in the menopause thick of it!”

She still loves to travel, and as a retired navy wife, she’s traveled all over the world. Before the pandemic, she enjoyed a wonderful trip to Rome with her daughter, and her “absolute favorite destination” is Nicaragua, where she participated in a yoga retreat and stayed at luxurious TreeCasa resort.

At home and during her travels, she recommends breathing techniques — “Taking a few simple ocean breaths can really calm you down” — and hot yoga.

This might sound counterintuitive (considering the hot flashes!), but Kimberly told us in her experience, it “helps stimulate endorphins and helps you maintain a general well-balanced feeling. And it is global! You can take a class anywhere if you need your chill back.”

Not interested in hot yoga? That’s okay. Michelle Davies, professional life coach and co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Best Ever Guide To Life, says regular physical activity is key and advises choosing activities that best suit your lifestyle and fitness level. “Due to change in hormone levels, menopausal women tend to lose muscle mass and gain fat in the midsection. That’s why it’s important to keep the physical activity going, especially when approaching 50. Not only will it help keep off extra weight, it’ll do a lot in regulating overall mood thanks to a boost in feel-good hormones.”

Sleep better and wake up ready for the day’s activities (hot yoga or otherwise!) with Kindra’s Day-to-Night Booster Bundle.

older woman relaxing on a hammock in a tropical destination
Image: Quinn Martin, Shutterstock

5. Nurture Yourself At Every Opportunity

Michelle also said women need to embrace self-care during and after menopause. “At this point, the kids have probably grown up or you may have already gone past the hectic years of building your career. So now’s the time to be a little more selfish. You now have the luxury of being more laid-back and spending more time exploring things you love and enjoy. Take time to travel to new places or pick up a new hobby.”

For Cindy Maricle, essential oil enthusiast and women’s health advocate, that’s meant saying yes to spontaneous travel invitations, including a recent impromptu week in Maui, and Michelle said she’s incorporated more self-care practices since she has more time to herself. “I took to journaling and meditation. I also spend a lot of time hiking and exploring the great outdoors.”

Cindy told us she wished she would’ve known to listen to her body and pivot faster before going through menopause.

Now she nurtures herself at every opportunity — “soaking in an aromatherapy bath or sipping a refreshing cold sparkling drink.”

“If I’m going to be pampered, it’s up to me,” she said, “and, I deserve it!”

6. Expect Itchy Skin

For Cindy, pampering means simple, inexpensive-yet-luxurious ways of treating herself and her girlfriends, including home spa experiences like lavender steam facials, foot soaks, and deep cleansing masks. Obviously, a lot of these menopause self-care regimens are skin-focused, which makes sense considering the hormonal shifts and skin changes menopause entails.

Cindy said she focuses on supporting her skin naturally by staying well hydrated and supplementing with collagen, natural progesterone, and superfoods.

Curiosity piqued? See Kindra’s guide to hydrating from the inside out plus their skin-friendly supplement advice here, and know that, according to Kimberly, keeping your body hydrated by drinking plenty of water and using hydrating lotion can save you time at the doctor because you probably don’t have poison ivy. In her experience, “itchy skin is one of those strange side effects of menopause.”

Group Of Mature Female Friends On Outdoor Yoga Retreat Walking Along Path Through Campsite
Image: Monkey Business Images, Shutterstock

7. This Is When Life Begins!

Singer-songwriter Belinda Fraley Huesman calls herself The Menopause Outlaw, and she’s aiming to “write” the wrong of ageism through the power of story and song.

She told us turning 50 is when life begins. “Adventure awaits and even though seasons of life bring change, it’s an invitation to reinvent ourselves and believe in the beauty of our dreams.”

“This isn’t our mother’s menopause with misinformation about the change. We are well-informed, confident women who are aging fearlessly and defying boundaries. By inspiring women to live their truth we can change the paradigm, transforming the perception of menopause and pass down the generational knowledge that our mothers and grandmothers were afraid to talk about.”

Belinda shared the words of her own mother, who passed away at 54: “Don’t get my age and have a wish list of things you want to accomplish. Go after it even if you fail. It won’t be because you didn’t try.”

She went on to tell us, “Those words spurred me to believe that 50 can be the start of something new. For me, it was to honor my talent of writing and singing and use my voice to encourage women to find the girl they left behind and believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Finally, Cindy suggests that menopause and beyond is a time “to focus on gratitudes, allowing rather than striving, attracting rather than promoting, dreaming rather than goal-setting, mindset rather than strategy, relating rather than producing, listening rather than talking, and wins rather than misses.”

Whatever that looks like for you (from splurging on extra comfy footwear to enjoying your food and wine — two Kimberly recommendations I already resonate with!) the Kindra Journal and product lineup offer accessible menopause education and support that’s worth your consideration, and they’ve established an online community of supportive women, that’s free to join, too.

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What to do if you’re turned away because you don’t have the right travel documents

What to do if you’re turned away because you don’t have the right travel documents

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Fear and loathing: How neighbour turned on neighbour in the N.W.T.’s first pandemic month

This story is part of a series marking one year of COVID-19 in the North.

The Northwest Territories can sometimes feel like one of the few places untouched by COVID-19.

Today, employment in the territory is rising, drinks are flowing at Yellowknife pubs, and many classrooms are just as tightly filled with children as before. But it wasn’t always this way.

In the pandemic’s first month, the N.W.T. was under some of the most restrictive health measures in the country. Residents were barraged by warnings from politicians and health officials that a single outbreak could welcome catastrophe.

It was during this time that health officials unveiled the ProtectNWT COVID-19 hotline, an anonymous tip line for reporting perceived violations of public health orders and guidelines.

CBC News has reviewed hundreds of complaints submitted to the territory’s COVID-19 compliance reporting hotline in the first month of the pandemic, between March 26 and April 21. 

The records show how fear of COVID-19 consumed many northerners — and drove hundreds to report their friends, colleagues, and even family members for even the most minor transgressions.

Dr. Kami Kandola, the chief public health officer for the N.W.T., speaking to reporters following the identification of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the territory. The same day, she announced the creation of the ProtectNWT tip line. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

‘Surge in demand’ days after tip line goes live

In late March, only one legally binding public health order was in effect — one requiring travellers to the territory, and returning residents, to self-isolate for 14 days.

Nonetheless, in the first few days after the tip line was announced, hundreds of residents reported neighbours for perceived violations as minor as “walking around town,” playing music, receiving a letter, or posting pictures taken outdoors on Facebook.

“I appreciate being able to make this report — and especially appreciate that I will not be named to the residents,” wrote one complainant.

In fact, by March 31, just a few days after the tip line came online, reports were already slipping through the cracks due to a “surge in demand,” as noted in one record.

A client of the Salvation Army in downtown Yellowknife was interrogated by health officials after an anonymous report, but was found to be trying hard to minimize risk. (The Salvation Army Yellowknife/Facebook)

Many of these early reports take on an ugly quality. There was a Yellowknife nurse who reported a neighbour for hosting “Asian tourists” later discovered to be essential workers. 

There was an anonymous report of a man failing to self-isolate, when he was merely staying in temporary housing at the Salvation Army after a move from Fort Providence. Officers interrogated him only to hear he was largely respecting the rules, even securing a COVID-19 test for a cough he picked up while on the street.

And in one report from April 5, Lesa Semmler, MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes, forwarded a report of a self-isolating woman who let her uncle, who lived “on the street,” enter her home. Investigators chastised the woman for allowing a visitor.

Contacted by CBC, Semmler said this complaint was one of many she heard from residents in the early days of COVID-19, which she forwarded on to ProtectNWT.

“That was the only thing we really had” to help calm constituents fearful of the disease, she said.

“In the beginning, I felt that people needed to know that there was somebody looking into protecting them,” Semmler said. “There was just so much fear.”

Business reported before it was built

Businesses were not spared suspicion. Within days of the chief public health officer advising businesses to take common-sense precautions against COVID-19, residents were reporting workers in Yellowknife, Fort McPherson, Hay River and Behchokǫ̀ for supposedly violating rules.

Public health officers almost invariably found they were simply catching up to changing guidelines.

One person reported the Yellowknife Walmart for inadequate COVID-19 prevention even after they began wiping down carts, installing plastic barriers, and enforcing physical distancing in the store.

Yellowknife’s Walmart was a frequent target of complaints, despite introducing several special measures to reduce the risk from COVID-19. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Another reported workers at the Independent grocery store for not changing their plastic gloves after each “potential contamination event.”

Yet another reported a mini-golf course in Fort Resolution — before it was even built.

Some complaints bordered on paranoia. One man spent 37 minutes on the phone with call centre workers, panicked about authorities’ recommendation to go “out on the land,” and worried that COVID-19 could have made it via wastewater into the lakes and rivers.

“The telephone conversation ended poorly,” the record notes.

Repeat violators issued verbal warnings

While many of the records detail reminders given to rule-breakers, a large number of complaints were found to be invalid, aimed at individuals who had reasonable exemptions or were already finished their self-isolation period.

Others were lodged against individuals who had never travelled, or had merely moved between N.W.T. communities. In many cases, it didn’t spare them calls and visits from investigators.

In cases where complaints were legitimate, officials often simply explained the rules again, a result of the emphasis on public education in guidelines given to public health officers.

Where repeat violators were openly disregarding the rules, however, those same officials often did little to stop them.

The local gas station in Behchokǫ̀, N.W.T., was the subject of one complaint. When ProtectNWT staff thought the manager wouldn’t send a sick worker home, they could only forward the complaint to the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission. (David Adamec/Wikipedia)

In one example, a new mother visited routinely with others in Ndilo and Dettah despite recently returning from medical travel in Edmonton. After three complaints, local leadership was on the phone with officials asking why she was still being allowed to travel freely throughout the community.

In response, workers issued yet another warning.

In another instance, a worker at the Behchokǫ̀ gas bar who was “constantly coughing” was deemed fit to work by the manager. When a health officer spoke to the manager, they were “not satisfied [they] will effectively resolve [the] concern” — but the most they could do was forward the complaint to the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC).

“Will there be a response from WSCC on matters like this?” the health officer wrote. The complaint was marked closed.

ProtectNWT staff involve RCMP

Several tips came from workers at the territory’s isolation centres, who warned of people checking out early or disappearing without a trace. Tracking them down sometimes occupied the rest of the traveller’s isolation period.

Other tips show the sometimes heavy cost of isolation for residents, with some breaking quarantine to check on people normally in their care, or even, in one case, being hospitalized for alcohol withdrawal while staying at a centre.

Health officials themselves were sometimes over-exuberant in policing public health orders, occasionally overstepping their authority or providing bad advice.

A worker at Chateau Nova hotel in Yellowknife drops off food to guests who were self-isolating. The reports detail how travellers broke quarantine on multiple occasions. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

Staff in the Beaufort Delta warned residents of a “ban on mass/social gatherings” when it was still only a recommendation from the chief public health officer. One ProtectNWT employee even told someone if they saw their sister, who was under suspicion for recently travelling, they “must” report her and “provide all the details.”

Twice before April 11, when a public health order actually banned indoor gatherings, health officials called RCMP to conduct searches of sites where gatherings had been alleged to have taken place, including an isolation centre in Inuvik. In both cases, “no signs of gathering were present.”

By April 11, RCMP were “pretty touchy over the notion of helping with enforcement,” according to an internal email from Mike Westwick, head of COVID-19 communications at the time.

Public health order boosts complaints

When Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola made her April 11 order banning all indoor gatherings (and outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people), it was among the strictest in the country at the time, despite there being just a few active cases in the territory.

Overnight, the tone of calls changed, ProtectNWT records show. Nearly every tip was now about a party, card game, or other now-illegal gathering, and many more of them were anonymous.

Serious crimes were now being reported to the hotline, as well. Suspected drug use, family violence, and elder and child abuse feature heavily in reports from virtually every community. ProtectNWT records health officers mostly forwarding these reports to other agencies.

A public health order banning most gatherings supercharged complaints to the anonymous tip line. (Katie Toth/CBC)

A number of people in the reports demonstrated a general disregard for the public health measures. One person was accused of “sneaking” into the territory with a truck driver; another group of socializing in vehicles and bragging on social media about “getting away with breaking the law.”

Bootlegging complaints skyrocketed, with concerns about “a great deal of alcohol” entering multiple communities. The ATM in Colville Lake reportedly even ran out of cash when one bootlegger came into town.

“Caller believes RCMP will not do anything,” the report from Colville Lake reads. “I encouraged her to continue to report concerns … to the RCMP.”

Health workers refer illegal gatherings to police

Reports show residents across the territory voicing frustration with responses to illegal gatherings from ProtectNWT, and from outside agencies they frequently enlisted for help.

More than one record shows callers hanging up on ProtectNWT workers in anger when they said they could not immediately respond to a party next door. Multiple complaints were lodged about the same residences with increasing frustration as illegal gatherings continued unaddressed.

Multi-day parties at Yellowknife apartments, like Northview’s Sunridge Place, were often referred to landlords or RCMP to deal with. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

Earlier in the pandemic, complaints about parties were forwarded to landlords, who had limited authority to act. Once gatherings were criminalized, the same reports went to the RCMP, which reports suggest often failed to respond. 

“RCMP pass it on to [the COVID-19] line saying they’re allowed to have visitors, they’re allowed to have [a] party??!!” one person wrote while lodging a complaint about illegal parties in four different Northview buildings in Yellowknife. “Housing passes it on to RCMP, [and] Northview is left to deal with it basically on their own.

“While it may be their security’s job, this Protect[NWT] line needs to do their job.”

Shouting matches and suspicion

Among these accounts of more serious infractions, residents continued to report the harmless activities of their neighbours. Cars and trucks with out-of-territory license plates were reported, as was an Easter mass in Inuvik, where parishioners met on an ice road and stayed inside their vehicles.

Shouting matches erupted in stores in Tsiigehtchic and Hay River as people accused each other of spreading the disease. A corner store was reported as “dangerous” for asking customers to use adjacent tills, and a van in Yellowknife drew one man’s ire for carrying seven passengers.

“If I am not allowed to do this, nobody should be,” the complainant wrote.

Places where people who experience homeless congregated, like Yellowknife’s only sobering and day shelter, pictured here, were frequently the subjects of reports. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Any group, from a quartet of young smokers to a bench shared by three people, was liable to generate a report — even though outdoor gatherings of under 10 people were still allowed.

Many complainants wondered why police and bylaw were not more involved in public health enforcement, especially regarding gatherings in areas frequented by people who are homeless.

One person even suggested police roam Fort Smith with a two-metre pole “showing clearly” what appropriate distancing looks like to those gathering on the street.

It’s important to remember that while, theoretically, any one of the people being reported could have carried COVID-19, none apparently did. The territory recorded just a handful of disconnected cases during this time, all related to travel, and by the end of April, it had successfully eradicated the disease.

Conrad Baetz, the Northwest Territories’ former deputy chief public health officer, speaks to a public health officer at a roadside photo op in April 2020. Many complainants asked why RCMP and local bylaw were not more actively policing residents for public health violations. (Katie Toth/CBC)

It is easy, in retrospect, to say that residents’ concern as expressed in these often panicked reports was misdirected or overblown.

But it is also worth noting that, at the time, health authorities were clear about just how little was known about COVID-19. Few known treatments were available. A vaccine seemed impossibly far off. And little was understood about how infectious it could be, for how long, or how lethal it was to those who contracted it.

How CBC obtained ProtectNWT records

These details are the result of a public documents request CBC made in the spring of last year.

Laws require the N.W.T. government to provide redacted documents within 30 days, but the Department of Health and Social Services argued it could not prepare the documents in time, as “diverting those essential resources … would compromise public health and safety.”

Despite the N.W.T. privacy commissioner ruling that excuse invalid, the department never gave timelines for providing the documents, and disregarded multiple emailed follow-ups. Other access to information requests were similarly delayed.

That did not change even when the government created a multi-million-dollar COVID-19 coordinating secretariat, which was intended partly to improve the department’s poor response to media requests.

In fact, though Sonya Saunders, the secretariat’s director, said the requests were in the “final review stages” in October, it was still a further 60 days — double the time provided for in law — before they were partially fulfilled.

In a review of the government’s actions last June, the privacy commissioner acknowledged that her options to force the government’s hand were “extremely limited and quite ineffectual.”

Today, a year after the pandemic was declared, the government still routinely bypasses timelines set out by law. A revamped access to information and protection of privacy (ATIPP) act, approved by MLAs nearly two years ago, is still not in effect.

A Justice Department spokesperson said the “majority” of those changes would be implemented by this summer. A new centralized ATIPP department has been handling all requests from March 1 of this year.

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How Covid turned travel upside-down

No part of life has been untouched by Covid – but travel in particular has changed beyond all recognition. Quarantine hotels, pre-departure PCR testing, socially-distant sunbathing: not only have the rituals (and regulations) of travel altered unimaginably, but we’ve also got a whole new lexicon to describe them.

And now, the sights that once seemed unthinkably dystopian have become run-of-the-mill. Hazmat suits in airports? Deserted world icons? That’s just the tip of the iceberg…

What’s next for travel? Tell us your predictions in the comments section below.

Repatriation: an untimely (but increasingly likely) end to your trip

Passengers wait for a repatriation flight to Russia, after their country’s borders closed in May 2020:

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