An electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (yellow), the virus that causes Covid-19, emerging from cells (blue/pink) cultured in a lab. Rocky Mountain Laboratories/Wikimedia
Plans are being finalized to help smaller NWT communities cope with a possible future outbreak of coronavirus, utilizing help from the territorial and federal governments.
As of 6:50pm on Thursday, March 12, there are no confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the NWT. Health authorities say the risk of acquiring the virus remains low. To date, 54 people in the territory have been tested.
If you think you have symptoms, use this guide and then call ahead before heading out to get tested. Once tested, you should self-isolate until your initial test results come back in three to four days, and follow Public Health’s advice.
However, self-isolation is easier in some communities than others. The Dene Nation this week noted many smaller NWT communities have poor-quality housing and overcrowding in some homes, making it harder to isolate yourself.
A housing report released at the end of 2019 showed nine percent of NWT homes don’t have enough bedrooms for all occupants. Twenty percent require major repairs or don’t have running water.
Earlier on Thursday, the CBC reported the federal government is considering sending isolation tents to Indigenous communities – exactly where was not clear – to provide areas for testing and screening purposes.
These may be accompanied by temporary shelters for self-isolation and temporary accommodation for health workers.
While the federal government reportedly said the temporary shelters would have a heating component, Kami Kandola – the NWT’s chief public health officer – said the territory’s approach to temporary shelters would “need further discussion.”
“We’d have to see if what [the federal government] provides works for our weather patterns in our jurisdictions,” Kandola said in a news conference on Thursday afternoon.
Ivan Russell, the NWT government’s director of public safety, said: “When it comes to needing shelter in communities, it’s very much dependent on the community – what they have available at the time, what the additional needs are.”
Russell said the territory would work with any affected community to see what additional shelter – hotel rooms, rental units, government housing – may be available.
If possible, self-isolating people should stay in a separate room or separate part of a house, Kandola said.
If a test shows someone in a smaller community has Covid-19 – the disease caused by the coronavirus – the NWT’s health department will offer advice and personal protective equipment to families, Kandola said, to limit their exposure as self-isolation continues.
Health centres across the NWT are well-equipped with stocks of gowns, gloves, masks, and eye protection, Kandola continued, in part to deal with established concerns like tuberculosis.
“If those cannot be provided, then we need to look at other measures,” she said, like “working with the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, working with social services on how to protect the community and, at the same time, provide self-isolation to an individual.”
Kandola said visitors to the NWT who develop flu symptoms will be told to “stay in place,” likely at their hotel, until test results are available.
Small communities ‘very resilient’
Russell, at the same Thursday news conference, told reporters he believes the NWT’s communities are prepared for a pandemic.
Communities have up-to-date emergency plans, he said, and participate in so-called “tabletop training exercises” to prepare for this kind of eventuality.
“We certainly have daily contact with [the communities] to share information, identify any support needs that they may have, and plan to respond to those needs,” Russell said.
If a shortage of shelter is identified as a critical concern, Russell said the NWT will “quickly reach out to the federal government for support.”
“One good thing with many of our remote communities is that they’re very resilient,” he added.
“These people come together on a regular basis to deal with so many emergency-type situations. It’s all hands on deck.
“There’s a lot of strengths in those communities. While the resources may be limited, they make maximum use of those resources.”
ITK asks for Inuit special status
Later on Thursday, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), the organization representing the interests of Inuit across Canada, requested in a statement for “Inuit to be considered a special, high-risk group in federal response planning.”
The ITK said lack of infrastructure “makes it difficult to separate the ill from the well in Inuit communities,” adding prolonged disruptions in travel to find healthcare “could have severe detrimental effects on the health, economy, and wellbeing of the community and community members.”
The statement continued: “Reliance on southern centres for intensive care and laboratory services could limit access to healthcare for Inuit if these centres become overwhelmed with patients from their own jurisdictions.
“The high dependence of Inuit communities on limited routes for provisions makes them vulnerable to shortages of crucial items if a high degree of disease transmission in the south causes transport delays or shortages.”
The NWT is considering opening a dedicated Covid-19 testing site if volume and demand require it, Kandola said. No further detail on that plan was provided on Thursday.
Kandola said the NWT was starting to assess if mass gatherings, sporting events, and other public events should be postponed or cancelled – particularly in smaller communities.