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Sahtu cluster is fourth wave of COVID-19 in NWT: Health minister

The fourth wave of COVID-19 has arrived in the NWT with the outbreaks in Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake, Health Minister Julie Green said on Aug. 16.
The COVID-19 outbreaks in the Sahtu region are likely to put “tremendous strain” on NWT health care resources, said Health Minister Julie Green on Aug. 16. NNSL photo

The fourth wave of COVID-19 has arrived in the NWT with the outbreaks in Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake, Health Minister Julie Green said on Aug. 16.

One case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Fort Good Hope, with 15 probable cases; two cases are confirmed in Colville Lake, one in Deline and four probable cases in Yellowknife that were connected with travel to Fort Good Hope.

Fort Good Hope is experiencing community spread of the virus, said chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola, who spoke in a video conference with Green.

The majority of cases are in people who have not been vaccinated.

“Our office expects more cases in Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake. There is a risk of a regional outbreak in the Sahtu connected by culture and travel. Because of the close connections we assume everyone in Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake has been exposed,” Kandola said.

All of the infected individuals are doing well and no one has been admitted to the hospital, said territorial medical director Dr. AnneMarie Pegg.

Two infected people were transported to Yellowknife for further medical assessments and are isolating there.

Rapid response teams have been deployed to the Sahtu communities to conduct COVID-19 testing amid the containment order that Kandola’s office made Aug. 15.

RELATED REPORTING: Containment order for Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake, Northwest Territories due to COVID-19 cluster

The infections in Fort Good Hope are connected to a handgames gathering that was held there on Aug. 5 to 9, an event that Kandola called a “super spreader” after a person infected with COVID-19 who was symptomatic attended it.

RELATED REPORTING: Fort Good Hope handgames tournament ‘identified as a COVID-19 exposure location’ by OCPHO

It was not yet known how the individual caught it but Kandola said they hadn’t travelled outside the territory.

Test results are pending in Alberta and it is believed the infections are the Delta variant, which is 50 per cent more transmissible, Kandola said.

Green said the infections in the Sahtu “will likely place tremendous strain on our health system resources” and she urged NWT residents to be on high alert, follow all health measures and get vaccinated if they haven’t already done so.

To preserve healthcare capacity in response to the outbreaks, it’s possible that some non-emergency procedures, such as surgeries could be postponed. Virtual health care options are being reviewed so that people can receive care without needing to travel.

“We depend on Alberta for their medical capacity to help us with acute care, even when our ICU is up to full speed and that’s the case now. People who we’re unable to help in NWT will be sent back to Alberta for care,” Green said, almost one week after she announced that critical care capacity at Stanton might face reductions due to staffing shortages.

RELATED REPORTING: Staffing woes limit critical healthcare delivery, says Northwest Territories health minister

With students returning to school in just two weeks, Kandola said schools will remain open though health authorities will monitor the situation and see how things evolve over the next 10 days.

Kandola is working with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation on its exposure plan for the upcoming hand games tournament planned for Aug. 19 to 22.

While handgames events are regarded as “high risk activities,” the vaccination rates in the Yellowknife area are fairly high and the main concern with the tournament is how it can be done safely.

She said her office has not yet made a decision on whether the games will happen or if they will scale them down.

Vaccination rates in the Sahtu are lower than in other regions of the NWT. Colville Lake has the lowest rate of any community at 19 per cent full vaccination. In Fort Good Hope, 61 per cent of residents are fully vaccinated, according to the latest data from the GNWT’s COVID-19 dashboard.

SEE MORE: COVID-19 Dashboard