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Expect more travel-related Covid cases, Kandola says

Chief public health officer Kami Kandola speaks during the press conference on Tuesday. screengrab image

The GNWT anticipates more travel-related cases of Covid-19 "as the weeks go on" as people continue to enter the territory from places with high numbers of cases, said chief public health officer (CPHO) Dr. Kami Kandola on Wednesday.

The NWT's top doctor made the comment on travel-related spread during a teleconference with reporters.

The NWT would continue in phase two of its recovery plan and wouldn't move back to phase one if there are more cases, and the regular practices of isolation of positive cases and contact tracing would still apply.

The number of people entering the NWT has steadily increased since May. Office of the Chief Public Health Officer image

Kandola spoke shortly after her office released its latest Covid-related statistics for the territory, including data showing that the number of NWT residents returning to the NWT and going into self-isolation has increased steadily since mid-June.

During the period of Aug. 9-15, a total of 1,157 self-isolation plans were approved, the highest number since May.

Conrad Baetz, the NWT's Covid enforcement and compliance chief, said in the teleconference that the numbers show more NWT residents have decided to travel outside the territory during the summer “understanding that they'll have to self-isolate when they come back.”

Kandola also noted the recent outbreaks of Covid in British Columbia, caused by large social gatherings and the higher numbers of young people testing positive for Covid.

She said those outbreaks show the need for NWT residents to stay vigilant by keeping physically distant, staying home if they feel sick and to follow sanitation protocols.

“Our message to residents is to be prepared. Make these precautions part of your day to day life. You're doing this for your family, your friends, your community because we will get more Covid-19 cases, it is inevitable. But it is not inevitable that these cases evolve to large outbreaks. You have control over what you do.”

The increasing number of people entering the NWT includes teachers coming back before school starts in about two weeks.

Kandola told reporters that her office, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment and schools in the territory have been working over the summer on “providing a safe restart” when classes resume.

An early intervention measure of that restart involves requiring all teachers to come back to the NWT “a full 14 days before school starts so that they can complete their self-isolation requirements ... and therefore be cleared to be able to go back into the school setting and pose no risk to the students and the other staff.”

Enforcement concerns

The latest charge related to a health order violation occurred on Aug. 13 in the North Slave region after an individual didn't follow self-isolation rules. That incident brings to 13 the number of charges for health order violations, according to the latest data from Kandola's Office of the CPHO, which it released on Wednesday.

RELATED REPORTING: ‘Troubling’ case leads to latest public health non-compliance ticket in North Slave

Addressing the possibility that an increase in violations would lead to stricter guidelines on self-isolation, Baetz said that most people entering the NWT are following the rules, doing their symptom checks and fulfilling the entire 14 days of the isolation periods.

“As a compliance and enforcement team we try to make sure that we follow up on any complaints that we get and that we try to make sure that we have a really clear understanding of who or where or which of the four (isolation) hubs we're having challenges with and trying to ensure that we're aware of the situation where people might not be following the self-isolation (rules) and dealing with it.”

Kandola added that residents could contact the ProtectNWT line about non-compliance concerns and the task force would follow up and investigate the complaints.

Out of a total of 2,117 compliance cases investigated in the NWT, there have been 208 verbal and written warnings and no court summons, Wednesday's report shows.

Identifying Covid locations

Health authorities have a policy of not identifying Covid cases if they occur in small communities so as not to contribute to any social stigmatization.

Although news media reported in April that a positive case was diagnosed in an individual from Fort Resolution, Mike Westwick, OCPHO spokesperson reiterated on Wednesday that the office never confirmed there was a case in that community.

RELATED REPORTING: ‘It’s pretty damn scary’: Grandfather worried after COVID-19 reported in Fort Resolution

Kandola said the exception to that policy is when someone's non-compliance with health regulations puts at risk other members of the territory.

“If they had a number of exposures, if they didn't self-isolate for 14 days, didn't socially distance, didn't call ahead to the healthcare centre, (or) exposed people and we couldn't get a good sense of who the contacts would be, we would definitely advertise that if anyone was seen in this vicinity between this and this time there's a possibility you could have been exposed, please identity yourself to the health centre.

“These are ways we would want to protect the public health.”

In situations where no one else was put at risk by a positive case, Kandola said there is no additional benefit in causing increased harm by stigmatizing that individual.

Rapid testing benefits

A new Covid rapid testing device known as BioFire is scheduled to become operational at Stanton Territorial Hospital in September.

RELATED REPORTING: NWT stuck in phase two of recovery plan as rest of Canada moves forward

Kandola said that one of the additional benefits of receiving test results faster is getting people back to normal life sooner.

“(BioFire) would allow kids ... to get tested, get the results quicker and if they're negative, get them back into school, get people back into work a lot quicker,” she said.

The expansion of rapid testing to a wider range of people would depend on the testing supplies, Kandola added. A national shortage of testing cartridges for the rapid testing GeneXpert devices has meant that testing with the two GeneXpert kits at Stanton are reserved for people deemed high-risk.

RELATED REPORTING: Rapid Covid-19 testing kits in use in Yellowknife, but most tests still shipped to Alberta

In regards to whether faster testing capabilities would permit the reduction of self-isolation periods from two weeks to one week, Kandola said isolation period issues were still under review.