The territorial government is getting set for its next phase of lifting public health restrictions associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola said in her weekly news teleconference Wednesday that with the NWT reaching nearly a month since the Emerging Wisely document was released, the territorial government expects to continue easing public health orders by mid-June.
“We are in week three of Phase One and the NWT is still going strong,” she told reporters in a statement. “People are enjoying the outdoors and are re-introduced to activities they missed.
“Businesses and organizations are doing an incredible job opening up and doing it safely.
“All this is to say that we’re looking forward to Phase Two in the coming weeks,” she said.
In the meantime, she is asking residents to follow public health guidelines because the threat of the virus still remains in the territory, even as people may feel increasingly comfortable.
Phase One of Emerging Wisely allowed for up to five people that don’t live with a person inside one’s residence as well as a maximum of 10 people in total allowed inside a home at any given time.
The first phase also allowed for up to 25 people to gather outside, most outdoor sports and for some businesses to reopen, such as art galleries and personal service establishments like hair salons and tattoo parlours, provided they follow strict public health guidelines.
Pressed by reporters on firmer dates, Kandola said Phase Two and a further lifting of restrictions could come as early as late next week.
“If we have all of our ducks in a row and we meet all of our legal amendments, it could be as early as Friday, June 12,” she said.
Phase Two would allow for more types of businesses to open, such as dine-in restaurants, fitness classes outdoor tourism and movie theatres. It would allow for more indoor public gatherings, sports activities and a greater maximum limit on the number of people who can gather outdoors (25 to 50). Government offices, campgrounds, and places of worship can open. It would also mean some indoor summer camps can take place.
“So the second phase is on track and that is largely due to our ability to put in place our travel restrictions,” said Kandola, noting the biggest threat to the NWT as it comes to Covid-19 remains incoming people from outside the border.
Also in the meeting was territorial medical director Dr. Sarah Cook, , Ivan Russell, director of the public safety division with the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, and Conrad Baetz, deputy chief public health officer and enforcement lead.
Continued medical treatment during pandemic
Cook said during the conference that the health care system is prepared to take patients during the pandemic and that people should not avoid getting medical treatment out of fear of contracting Covid-19.
“We have more options now than ever to meet the needs of patients,” she said. “Depending on the concern or need for an appointment, it might be able to occur by phone or video without having to leave your house or community at all. We’ve heard that some people may want to avoid visiting a health care provider and fear of being in contact with COVID-19.
“I want to say that we have strong processes in place to protect our patients and our staff from attracting or transmitting COVID-19. Addressing your health care concerns right now is important, and that waiting to do so may cause more harm.”
Cook also provided some information regarding rapid testing for the virus.
“A negative result doesn’t mean we can immediately reduce our precaution,” she noted, adding that this is a constant question she receives.
Cook said each case requires a risk assessment to determine how long a person should be self-isolating.
“If you test negative one day, it doesn’t mean that you won’t develop symptoms and test positive another day,” she said. “Some isolation periods are really hard, and we understand that they’re one of the most important and powerful measures in preventing the spread of COVID-19.”
Cook also addressed a myth that seems to be spreading about the NWT’s testing strategy in that if everyone in the territory is tested, it will mean everyday life will go back to normal while keeping in place strong travel restrictions.
“Although this sounds great on the surface … it’s really not a viable option,” she said.
“The reason why is that generally testing people with no symptoms has really limited value because of the risk of false negatives. When we perform a test in individuals who are infected with a virus, but without symptoms, it’s unknown really how reliable that test is. People can have the virus for days before they show any symptoms.”