As of 5 p.m. Thursday, residents of Fort Simpson and Norman Wells will be able to isolate in their home communities rather than in one of the four hubs, chief public health officer (CPHO) Dr. Kami Kandola and Premier Caroline Cochrane announced in a press conference Thursday.
The announcement comes as both communities complete their second dose clinics of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine.
Fort Simpson and Normal Wells were noted to have adequate medical resources to support any new Covid cases that may arise and stabilize severe coronavirus cases. Both communities also have regional compliance and enforcement officers as well as twice-weekly wastewater collections for continued monitoring.
The new public health order seeks to address mental health concerns by providing access to family and community supports for residents in isolation.
Kandola explained that the decision to open up the communities for self-isolation is one that came as a request from local leaders.
She said the OCPHO receives numerous requests for exemptions from residents looking to isolate directly in their community. With recent wastewater surveillance implemented in Norman Wells and the end of the second dose clinics in both communities, the OCPHO felt comfortable that residents’ health would not be compromised by the decision.
Kandola said other communities interested in similar consultations can reach the OCPHO to open discussions as vaccination efforts advance.
“It is a conversation that requires a risk assessment,” she said. “If there are communities that are interested, and there’s capacity, they can always reach out and look at public health risk assessments to see what they need to do to be ready enough to help people isolate directly in their community.”
For residents of Fort Simpson and Norman Wells, they must still submit a self-isolation plan to Protect NWT prior to, or within 24 hours of entering the territory, in adherence with proper self-isolation protocols.
The ability to isolate in the two additional communities is only available to residents of Norman Wells and Fort Simpson. Other NWT residents will continue to self-isolate in Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River or Fort Smith.
As second dose clinics in Fort Simpson and Norman Wells conclude, populations that are still without their vaccine include residents under 18 and those with an allergy to ingredients in the Moderna vaccine.
Kandola advised that as spring and summer unfold, residents may have more choices with the Pfizer and the recently approved Astrazeneca vaccines, in addition to the prospect of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, currently under review. The vaccines include options that don’t contain polyethylene glycol, the ingredient that those with allergies are reacting to.
She said that Moderna trials are underway for children aged 12 to 17. Kandola speculates medical authorities will have data on the trials by the summer so that the NWT can look to vaccinate students ahead of the 2021-2022 school year in September.
Almost a full year since the NWT announced its first positive case of Covid-19, the Premier characterized the last 12 months “as one of the most challenging years many of us have ever experienced.”
“We’ve been in this almost a year and people are past Covid fatigue,” Cochrane said, “they’re Covid exhausted.”
She said that NWT residents’ compliance with public health orders is in large part why the territory has avoided a major surge in cases while other Canadian jurisdictions move in and out of lockdowns.
“Being able to open it up will help with the mental health issues that we are seeing across the Northwest Territories,” Cochrane said.
“Allowing local self-isolation will provide a greater sense of well-being and more familiar surroundings while continuing to keep our residents and communities healthy and safe.”