The Premier of the Northwest Territories on Monday said officials recommended all NWT schools close “until after Easter” at least.
In the legislature, Premier Caroline Cochrane said her education minister, RJ Simpson, “has consulted with the chief public health officer on this, and has received the advice today to close NWT schools until after Easter.”
The school districts, not the ministers, have authority to close schools. All districts reached by Cabin Radio said they would comply with the recommendation.
Simpson said he hoped education would continue using some form of distance learning despite the closures. How that would work was not yet clear, he said.
On Sunday, the chief public health officer – Kami Kandola – had said at the time there would be no order to close schools. Alberta on Sunday closed its kindergarten to Grade 12 schools and daycares.
On Monday, Cochrane said the territory’s advice had changed. However, with Easter on April 12, the additional closure being recommended is for a limited number of extra days after most NWT schools’ spring break.
There remain no confirmed Covid-19 cases in the NWT.
There are roughly 800 educators and 8,500 students in the territory’s 49 schools.
“The minister will be convening a teleconference with all district education authorities to discuss this direction,” said Cochrane, “and how best to support school teachers, staff, and students as they return from spring break travel.
“The health and safety of our people is paramount.”
No daycare closure recommendation yet
Later, health minister Diane Thom said the chief public health officer was “not currently advising closure of day homes or daycares.”
Thom also said “all mass gatherings … should consider whether to postpone” for at least the next three months.
The YWCA said its NWT after-school programs would close. The YWCA NWT family centre will close and suspend all programming on Tuesday.
It was not clear when, exactly, school closures would take effect, as they are under the jurisdiction of individual school districts.
The Department of Education, Culture, and Employment told Cabin Radio: “Education bodies have been notified that all students and staff can be dismissed today.”
Yellowknife’s YK1 school district said in a statement: “YK1 supports all decisions and recommendations put forward by the chief public health officer and the territorial government.
“We will continue to support all staff and students, including Grade 12 students who are working towards graduation.”
Emergency operations centre active
An NWT emergency operations centre, led by the Department of Municial and Community Affairs, was activated on Friday last week. That centre is designed to coordinate the territory’s response between all communities and departments.
Cochrane said her government was “taking the proper steps to deal with a scenario where we have dramatically fewer available employees” in the weeks to come.
The premier said drills and exercises had been taking place to identify potential gaps in the territory’s system and fix them.
“We must be prepared to take preventative actions now,” said Cochrane. “In recent days, we have seen many jurisdictions implement new measures in response to having the virus already spreading within their borders.
“We have the ability to take measures sooner than others, to better manage the risk.
“It is critically important that all residents and visitors to the NWT take precautions and follow the advice of our chief public officer.”
That advice currently states all residents returning to the territory from outside Canada must self-isolate for two weeks. Residents returning from inside Canada must self-monitor for two weeks, then self-isolate and contact a healthcare provider if symptoms develop – a cough, fever, or difficulty breathing.
International visitors to the NWT who arrived into Canada in the past 14 days are asked to self-isolate for the remainder of that 14-day period or leave “as soon as possible.”