With the holidays in full swing and Covid-19 cases rising in the NWT, some Yellowknifers are having difficulty accessing testing services due to reduced holiday hours.

Some residents are struggling to book appointments, or being turned away from walk-ins.

Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby said she’s heard directly from four or five constituents who have experienced difficulty scheduling tests.

“People that were told to get tested, because there had been an exposure at a worksite where a colleague had tested positive, were not able to book in for about a week to get the test,” she said.

One Yellowknife parent said two of his sons struggled to access testing after being exposed to Covid-19 over the holidays. One son was able to land an appointment for Dec. 29 at the Archibald Street testing site after his mother diligently refreshed the booking website over and over again until a time slot opened up. The other son heard through word of mouth that the clinic was accepting walk-ins, and lined up half an hour early on Dec. 30 for a test. However, just five minutes after the clinic opened, he was turned away.

When he called the territory’s 8-1-1 number, they offered him another appointment, but for Jan. 7.

He was eventually able to get in later Thursday morning. His father said, “It’s just an indication that their system is very strained.”

In a statement on Dec. 24, the NWT Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA) acknowledged that Covid-related services were indeed strained: “Testing and contact notification capacity in Yellowknife is currently limited,” the statement reads. “There is high demand for testing due to an increase in the number of positive Covid-19 cases and exposures. This is likely due to a higher number of contacts and exposures due to the nature of the holiday season. This is also increasing the time it takes for public health staff to notify contacts of their exposures to positive cases.”

Because of the holidays, Yellowknife’s testing site is operating on reduced hours. The Archibald Street location was scheduled for service from noon to 3:30 p.m. Dec. 26-28 and Jan. 2-3; from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Christmas Eve and New Years’ Eve; and regular hours on Dec. 29 and 30. The site was closed on Christmas day, and will be closed again on New Years’ day.

In response to the rising demand for tests, NTHSSA spokesperson David Maguire said the territory is “currently working to assess options” to expand access to rapid tests, and should be making an announcement on the subject next week.

He acknowledged that the Yellowknife site’s capacity to accept walk-ins is limited.

“Today the testing site took the names of 70 people for walk-ins and deferred others to the next day,” he said. “There is a limit on the capacity of both booked and walk-in appointments each day and individuals may be deferred if capacity is reached.”

Maguire could not say how many rapid tests the territory possesses due to constantly fluctuating inventory.

According to a media release from the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer, there were 87 active Covid-19 cases in the NWT as of Dec. 29. The GNWT’s Covid-19 dashboard, which tracks coronavirus infections in the NWT, shows only 24 active cases in the territory. However, the site has not been updated since Dec. 22.

Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson defended the decision to reduce testing site hours during the holidays, saying that healthcare workers need the time off.

“At this point with nurses quitting like crazy and us having huge vacancies, I’m not sure telling healthcare workers they couldn’t take leave would have left us worse off in the long-term,” he said.

He also said that although he has heard from constituents who have had trouble accessing PCR tests, “Everyone seems more than happy with the abundance of rapid tests, so it seems that we have filled the gap by having those on hand.”

No other MLAs responded to a request for comment in time for publication.

Meanwhile, Canada is experiencing its largest spike of Covid cases since the beginning of the pandemic, driven by the Omicron variant. There were 21,000 new cases nationwide on Dec. 27, compared to a seven-day average of about 19,600. The country also saw one of its largest-ever spikes in Covid cases immediately after the holidays last year.

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