There is a “good chance” more positive cases of Covid-19 will be identified in Fort Liard in the coming days, said chief public health officer Kami Kandola.
Speaking to reporters at the legislature during a rare Sunday press conference, Kandola said about 50 people who might have had contact with the three confirmed cases in Fort Liard are currently isolating in the Deh Cho community.
Kandola said the number of possible contacts is dynamic and “may change quickly.”
“Our rapid response team is on the ground, supporting local health staff to test, trace and isolate individuals in the community who may have been exposed,” Kandola said.
Health Minister Julie Green joined the conference remotely because she was feeling a little unwell and planned to get tested for Covid-19 later on Sunday as a precaution.
Following the three positive Covid cases in Ford Liard that were announced on Saturday, Kandola imposed a containment order in the community that bans all indoor gatherings and the closure of non-essential businesses and schools for 14 days.
The three cases in Fort Liard are classified as a “small community cluster,” Kandola said, and it is believed the first case was travel-related, with a possible connection between that case and a positive case of coronavirus detected in wastewater sampling in Hay River.
Health officials believe the individual returned to the NWT from outside the territory and travelled from Hay River to Fort Liard.
“The individual who was tested for Covid-19 responded to the public health advisory indicating anyone who had been in Hay River during that period should be tested. They had returned to Ford Liard already and were tested there. We do need more data about wastewater in Hay River to pursue this theory further. And we do expect these results in the coming days,” she said.
She couldn’t comment on whether the three cases in Fort Liard were the result of spread through a household gathering.
Territorial medical director Dr. AnneMarie Pegg, who spoke alongside Kandola said a Covid-19 rapid response team from the NWT Health and Social Services Authority was dispatched Saturday to Fort Liard to assist in contact tracing.
Two nurses and one logistician from the team will add to the staff already in Fort Liard to test residents identified as both high and low risk.
The testing is happening off-site from the health centre so that its regular health programs can continue.
“The vaccine clinic scheduled to take place in Fort Liard on Thursday and Friday will go ahead despite the latest outbreak,” she said.
“All residents aged 18 or older who are eligible for the vaccine will be offered vaccination at this time. Residents are encouraged to watch for further information that will be available from the health centre regarding the roll out of this vaccination clinic,” Pegg said.
Only unforeseen events, such as bad weather that would prevent the vaccination team from reaching Fort Liard would stop the clinic from going ahead.
However, Pegg explained that people who are isolating might have difficulty accessing the vaccine clinic and officials are discussing the possibility of the vaccination team returning sooner to the community when the second dose would be administered to reach people who are isolating.
“The other option would be looking at other means that those people could get the vaccination once the isolation period is finished,” she said.
In response to an inquiry as to whether the outbreak in Fort Liard is under control, Pegg said the community has responded positively to efforts to contain the outbreak.
“With the public health order there’s been a great uptake from the community. People are interested in being tested, people are being supportive and kind to one another. There’s been a great welcome to our rapid response team. The nurses have had good cooperation from the community. And all of those signs would indicate that there’s incredible motivation on behalf of the community.
“This all came about as a result of someone responding to the public health advisory that came out of the wastewater testing in Hay River, which also indicates a real willingness on behalf of the population of the NWT to get this outbreak under control.”
Kandola also addressed anxieties in the Deh Cho region related to business closures in Fort Simpson, where events, restaurants and public establishments have closed as a rumour circulates that a person with Covid from Fort Liard might have travelled through the town.
She restated the fact that three cases have been confirmed in Fort Liard and that officials have a “good grasp” on the close contacts of those cases. Officials have reached out to those contacts and advised them to isolate.
“There is no scenario where there’s an unidentified case in another community and there’s no scenario whether it’s an unidentified close contact in another community that hasn’t been made aware,” she said.
To enforce the rules of the containment order in the hamlet, two more officers with the NWT Compliance and Enforcement Taskforce will be heading to Fort Liard, said Premier Caroline Cochrane.
There was one officer already in the community, she said, with one more joining Sunday and a third coming in the middle of the week.
“We will make sure that we have enforcement officers in the communities to support the orders until this is addressed,” she said.
Mysterious case in Yellowknife
Contact tracing has found a possible connection between the Covid case announced on Friday and the Avens Manor long-term care home in Yellowknife, Kandola said.
That case was found in an individual who had no known recent travel history.
“Staff and select residents are being tested for Covid-19 as part of that effort,” Kandola said. “I want to be very clear, there is no indication of any exposure risk at Avens right now. We are simply exploring new leads as we cast a very wide net to identify the source of infection. So there is no need for alarm.”
If there was widespread transmission in Yellowknife, more positive cases would have been found in the more than 450 Covid tests conducted in the city over the last two weeks, Kandola said.
The cases in Fort Liard bring to 28 the total number of Covid-19 cases in the NWT and come as the territory is entering its third full week of the vaccination campaign.