The chief public health officer of the Northwest Territories is recommending all travellers arriving from international trips self-isolate for 14 days and self-monitor symptoms upon returning.
Dr. Kami Kandola held a news teleconference with local media and issued a public health advisory Sunday evening.
“In concert with the latest guidance from the federal government, we are strongly advising all travellers who have arrived or are arriving from international destinations to now self-isolate for 14 days,” Kandola told reporters.
“For international visitors in the NWT who have no symptoms and who are still within 14 days of arrival to Canada, we are recommending self-isolation for the remaining time of their 14-day period or returning home as soon as possible.”
The GNWT is also recommending that NWT residents avoid “all non-essential travel into the NWT from elsewhere in Canada”as well as non-essential travel outside of Canada.
Kandola said there have been 80 tests for COVID-19 in the Northwest Territories to date with zero cases identified.
The GNWT update came on the same day that the Government of Alberta announced the cancellation of all K to Grade 12 classes and licensed daycares after reporting an additional 17 cases of COVID-19.
There are now 56 confirmed cases in Alberta and 304 in Canada as of Sunday night.
Kandola said she was not making a similar announcement as no cases have been found in the NWT and the territory remains at low risk.
She added that closures of schools and day care centres could come from the communities themselves based on their own situations.
Right now, the 14-day self-isolation recommendation applies to anyone – including teachers, students – travelling outside of the NWT, she added.
“What you will find in some communities is that this (announcement) will significantly impact business continuity and schools will be closed based on that reason,” she said.
“In the NWT, we do have a gradation of different scenarios of increase in severity from a public health standpoint to close the school – and that would include having a case in the school, either in teachers or students or having a case in one or more schools.
“At present we have no cases of COVID-19 but you will hear of school closures and they will be primarily decisions made at the community level due likely due to business continuity.”
Health and Social Services Authority
Kandola was asked if Edmonton hospitals will be able to accept the NWT’s critical care patients that need a higher level of care, as well as how many intensive care unit beds that Stanton has available as well as the availability of ventilators for respiratory assistance for potential patients of COVID 19 in the NWT.
She identified these as “operational matters” and referred questions to the NWT Health and Social Services Authority.
Kandola was also asked based on a question from a Yellowknifer reader whether or not there is an after-hours phone number or testing site for the public if they need to get tested after hours or if they need to wait until regular business hours.
The GNWT has provided phone numbers for Yellowknife, Inuvik, Fort Smith and Hay River, but they in most cases appear to be limited to business hours.
“If someone is very sick with a fever or shortness of breath, they should call 911 and see the ER,” she said. “What is happening is that most cases of COVID-19 -in 80 per cent of cases- it presents flu-like symptoms. If someone on the weekend was to get sick but not sick enough to go to the hospital, the best thing to do is self-isolate and then call Yellowknife Public Health, (or) Inuvik (or) Hay River during regular operating hours. And the health centre. They would test you then. If you can stay put and self-isolate, it is better to stay home to wait and call those numbers.”
Businesses and self-isolation impacts
Kandola is asking businesses in the NWT that may be impacted by this decision to put together plans for “business continuity” so that essential services can continue while minimizing public risk.
“We recognize this can be a challenge for employers and communities as they seek to continue to provide essential services in our territory and in some cases may impact public safety,” she said.
“We therefore recommend that employers of essential workers that they should activate business continuity plans that includes risk assessments and mitigation measures that allow essential services to continue while minimizing risks to the public.”
The recommendation comes in addition to recommendations that anybody believed to have been in close contact with anyone with COVID-19 symptoms recently, should self-isolate, she said. This includes anyone who has come in close contact with infectious body fluids through coughing or sneezing or being in close quarters on an airplane with someone with the virus.
“Close contact at highest risk are persons who provide care with someone with COVID-19 and that can include health care workers who have not used consistent use of appropriate personal protected equipment, family members or other caregivers.
“Other close contacts include those who have lived with or had close prolonged within six feet of a person with COVID-19 and who has symptoms and has not self-isolated.