The territory’s chief public health officer can make the call to close schools if a coronavirus outbreak occurs in the NWT.
“I have powers under the Public Health Act to direct that. But we’re not near that point yet, we’re just increasing our surveillance,” Kami Kandola told NNSL Media on March 6.
In case of disease outbreaks, the Public Health Act of the NWT empowers the chief public health officer to “restrict access to premises described in the order by a person who is not immunized against the disease,” which can include any public facilities.
The spread of coronavirus, or Covid-19 has spurred countries like China, Italy and Japan and the state of California to close schools.
But Kandola pointed out that just because there are cases of coronavirus infection – like in British Columbia or Ontario – doesn’t mean the schools in those areas would be closed.
“In B.C. and Ontario they haven’t cancelled schools because the transmissions there were travel-related. But when there’s an increase of spreads in the community like in Japan or Italy or South Korea, it can’t be linked back to travel. That’s when schools can be closed.
“It’s all based on risk assessment. We wouldn’t close all schools in the NWT. It depends on the situation of community exposure.”
“If there’s a risk of community exposure I would make that call. If schools are closed it’s to protect kids and contain the virus.”
There have been no cases of coronavirus reported in the NWT, Kandola confirmed. She urged NWT residents last week to stock up with at least 14 days worth of supplies like essential medications and food.
“We have tested about 10 people and we always want to be vigilant. But we’re seeing more cases in the U.S. and in B.C. and Alberta has announced its first case as well. When we see that type of activity, we just want to pick up cases early,” she added.
As of Friday there have been a total of 47 confirmed cases of the virus in Canada: 22 in Ontario, 21 in B.C, three in Quebec and one in Alberta, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
That agency has assessed that the public health risk of the virus is low for Canada.
“The important thing about schools is that even if kids have a mild illness they can still pass it on to elders. That would be our focus for daycare and children and students. We know the Arctic Winter Games and March break are coming up (and) if people are travelling they need to be checking the government of Canada website for updates.
“If people come back from a trip abroad or domestically and they present with fever or shortness of breath or cough within 14 days of returning (they should) notify their health care provider so we can test them for flu or Covid-19 so we can pick it up early. If anyone has any flu-like symptoms they should stay home so we can test them.”
Kandola also wants to dispel the misconception that anyone who has travelled abroad should be isolating themselves out of fears of infection.
“There are two sites in the world that are high risk: Hubei Province in China (where the virus originated) and Iran. Even if people who went there returned and have no symptoms we’re asking people to self-isolate and stay home for 14 days. Those are the ones that are going to be picked up at the border. Everyone else just needs to self-monitor but not stay home.”
As of press time there were more than 98,000 cases of Covid-19 in 88 countries and more than 3,400 deaths, according to a World Health Organization report.