The GNWT’s capacity for Covid-19 testing reached a point on Tuesday where the turnaround time is now at less than 36 hours, said chief public health officer Kami Kandola.
“The health authorities (also) tell me we’ve cleared a small backlog we had – that means everyone is getting back to their lives a bit sooner and we’ll still keep our surveillance of Covid-19 strong,” Kandola told reporters Wednesday.
The advance in testing capabilities has been enabled by the use of the GeneXpert and BioFire rapid testing devices, which allows NWT health authorities to process results in-house.
The Diasora Simplexa devices, which can provide results in less than 24 hours, have been installed at Stanton Territorial Hospital and are in the process of being validated, Kandola said.
The territory’s top doctor spoke a day after Health Canada announced it had approved a deal to purchase 20.5 million Panbio Covid-19 Ag Rapid Test Devices, said to be capable of processing results in less than 20 minutes.
“We’re working with the federal government on the timing of shipments,” Kandola said. “One will be at the end of December and one will be for the end of March. We’re also looking at the best times these tests can be used as well. The test is best to be used in the first five days of symptoms. It has limited use and it’s for symptomatic people.”
Kandola also addressed the possibility of acquiring the ID Now rapid point-of-care tests. The federal government last week signed an agreement with Abbott Rapid Diagnostics ULC to purchase up to 7.9 million of the kits, and Health Canada authorized their use.
“We will investigate the use and timing of these tests and make a decision based on (their) sensitivity and specificity. We know if the ID Now tests positive it’s pretty clear it’s positive. However, if it’s negative, there’s a risk of a false negative.
“The gold standard that we use for symptomatic people is the PCR (polymerase chain reaction). We have that available in-house and it allows us to have a quick turnaround time. The ID Now will never replace the gold standard, but it could be a strategic test later on in an isolation scenario for screening asymptomatic people.”
Despite the news on the faster turnaround time for testing in the territory, Kandola said residents must maintain vigilance because the pandemic is moving on a worst-case trajectory across the country, increasing the risk for the NWT.
“What happens next hinges on our collective choices and behaviour. We have succeeded before. We came together as a territory to push back Covid-19. We demonstrated our collective will and resilience while others struggled,” Kandola said.
She reminded residents to heed health measures during the Thanksgiving weekend by keeping social circles small, wearing face masks and washing hands constantly.
With the Christmas season just two months away, the possibility approaches that large numbers of residents will be at home in self-isolation after returning to the territory from visiting families elsewhere.
Health authorities have recommended since the pandemic began to avoid non-essential travel, Kandola said.
“I have to stress that recommendation will come even stronger now (that) we’re in the upswing of the second wave. People have to make that decision if they’re going to travel out,” she said. “If they’re working or if they’re part of a school or whatever system they’re a part of, they need to be checking with their employers, and employers need to be figuring out coverage and discretion. If the (Covid) modelling continues this way, and as the winter gets closer, there’s going to be an increased number of cases. We just need to be prepared for imported cases.”
The prospect of reducing the self-isolation time to a period of less than two weeks, which could help residents make potential holiday travel plans, would depend on the progress of the pandemic, Kandola explained.
The situation with Covid could change quickly and if the risk profile is significantly reduced, the two-week period would be reconsidered.
“We’ll see how the second wave levels off,” she said.