A colourized scanning electron micrograph of a cell (teal) infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus particles (pink). Image: NIAID-RML
Anecdotally, Covid-19 has picked up again in Yellowknife. But tracking the disease in the Northwest Territories is not nearly as easy as it once was.
That’s largely a function of relaxed restrictions. Eliminating mandatory isolation, and the requirement to take a test and report the results when symptomatic, restored freedoms but shut down data sources.
The NWT government’s Covid-19 dashboard, which existed for almost two years, was taken offline at the start of July. “The demand for these services has substantially decreased,” the territory said at the time.
That means there’s no longer any readily available data on the territory’s website, nor any indication of whether new strains of the virus responsible for Covid-19, like the faster-spreading BA5 subvariant of Omicron, are now prevalent in the North.
Asked how the territory is monitoring Covid-19 now it has a shadow of its former testing data, Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson Jeremy Bird said the NWT is still tracking hospitalizations, deaths, and sampling of sewage in seven communities.
“There has been a slight uptick in hospitalizations recently, with four in the last 30 days, but this has been manageable so far,” Bird said by email this week.
“The most recent wastewater data shows a low ongoing signal, without any significant increase in case numbers. We do anticipate it will increase in the coming weeks though with BA5, returning travellers, and people beginning to gather indoors more again.”
Bird confirmed the NWT, with no reliable incoming data, has given up tracking and reporting infection numbers.
He said a wastewater surveillance dashboard, showing the results of sewage sampling, would once again be publicly available “in the coming weeks” but is currently being updated. The new dashboard will track the virus responsible for Covid-19 alongside two other respiratory viruses, rRSV and Influenza A.
In the meantime, one of the more obvious indicators in Yellowknife has been the alteration or postponement of several small events in the past two weeks as vendors or organizers chose to isolate following positive tests.
“With increased travel, it is expected that there will be a steady number of imported cases as cases increase in the south,” Bird wrote.
While testing numbers have fallen Canada-wide, hospitalization data suggests the country is entering a new wave. “Cases are increasing again,” Health Canada stated earlier this week.
The territory expects a fresh increase to be most noticeable this fall as children return to school and more people gather indoors, facilitating the spread of BA5.
Julie Green, the NWT’s health minister, has said the rollout of a second booster shot to most residents aged under 50 is being held back “until the fall, when we expect a new vaccine product that will provide more effective protection against Omicron and its subvariants.”
The territorial government’s recommendation to residents at the start of July, when the dashboard was dismantled, stated: “Covid-19 infections in the Northwest Territories are still occurring and will continue to occur for the foreseeable future.
“Fortunately, there have been few severe outcomes in people who have contracted the most recent variant. However, it is still important to be vigilant and continue to protect ourselves and our communities.
“It is residents’ responsibility to follow current recommendations, maintain healthy habits, and stay home when they’re sick.”