The City of Yellowknife closed all of its playgrounds on Thursday after the NWT’s chief public health officer said steel play equipment can harbour the coronavirus.
In a statement, City Hall said all City playgrounds were closed with immediate effect. The Town of Inuvik had taken similar action a day earlier.
The City later walked back its initial statement that parks with playgrounds in them were entirely closed. Only the playgrounds will be closed.
Playgrounds across Canada have been closed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Some in the Northwest Territories still remain open or, at least, have no barriers in place.
On Thursday morning, the territory’s chief public health officer said all parents were advised to ensure children play elsewhere as the weather warms up.
“Because of the duration of the virus on metals, it would be wise to avoid the playground, especially with children who don’t always wash their hands before touching their face,” Dr Kami Kandola told the CBC’s Loren McGinnis during an hour-long call-in show.
However, Kandola did add that children in general appear to be at a lower risk than adults of developing serious complications from the virus.
“What we’re seeing is very few children – a very small percentage of children – become symptomatic or develop severity from Covid-19,” she continued.
“It seems to be a virus that’s hitting mainly older people. We’re seeing the highest percentage in the 50 to 59 category.”
Coronaviruses like this one are generally droplet-borne, meaning the droplets that come out in coughs and sneezes can land on surfaces and be picked up by another person. If that person then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth, that’s how the virus gets into the body.
Earlier this month, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine – one of the best-known and oldest medical journals – suggested the virus can survive for two to three days on plastics and stainless steel such as that found in playgrounds.
The full list of City of Yellowknife closures includes:
- Borealis Park
- Demelt Crescent Park
- Doornbos Park
- Forrest Drive Park
- Hordal/Bagon Park
- Josephine Walcer Park
- Lamoureux Park
- Latham Island Park
- Lakeshore Park
- Magrum Park
- McNiven Beach Park
- Moyle Park
- Parker Park
- School Draw Park
- Somba K’e Park
- Stirling Park
The City said outdoor rinks and trails would stay open and will be maintained, but residents should remember to keep at least two metres away from each other at all times while outside.
Healthcare system readies itself
The NWT currently has one confirmed case of Covid-19. More than 500 tests have come back negative, while at least 200 of the territory’s residents are still awaiting test results.
However, preparations continue for a future surge in cases should efforts to contain the virus fail.
Dr Sarah Cook, the territory’s medical director, told the CBC call-in the NWT is in the process of acquiring six additional ventilators from a federal emergency stockpile. Last week, the NWT was said to have 13 ventilators available. Ventilators are in critically short supply worldwide as they are vital to the treatment of the most severe Covid-19 cases.
People who become “extremely unwell” with Covid-19 will be transferred to Edmonton if necessary, where a higher level of care is available.
The healthcare system was “all hands on deck,” said Dr Cook, and many general appointments were being moved to virtual care – conversations by phone, Whatsapp, Facetime, or the Zoom video-conferencing software – where patients agreed.
In the smallest NWT communities, where no registered nurse exists, plans are being drawn up to have community health workers perform swabs to test for Covid-19 where necessary, Cook said.
Only those people in the NWT who have symptoms are being tested, added Kandola, stressing the territory’s approach was now different to that elsewhere in Canada as the North still has a chance to contain the virus.
“We’re still in a containment strategy,” Kandola told the CBC. “We are still testing aggressively all potential cases, including mild symptoms.
“Across the provinces, because of the sheer demand and increases in community transmission [where the source of someone’s infection can’t be readily traced], they’ve moved away from testing and are requesting that mild cases stay at home.
“In the NWT, it’s really important that you look at our website,” she said.
Funerals and mines
There was also advice for families holding funerals in the territory.
“If you’re going to have a funeral, contact environmental health to get advice on these types of gatherings,” said Kandola.
“We have issued an advisory that all gatherings are advised to cancel and that includes funerals and weddings.
“Funerals are important, but it’s also important to contact an environmental health officer so they can evaluate the situation and provide advice.”
Meanwhile, Kandola is talking to the territory’s mining companies about safety for workers at remote diamond mines northeast of Yellowknife.
Two mines remain operational while one has suspended work until further notice.
“This morning we will be talking to the mines and ensuring they are compliant with the workplace risk assessment,” said Kandola, referring to a set of precautions that must be put in place to protect staff.
“If need be, I can write a specific order to ensure compliance for the mine and petroleum sector, and that will be forthcoming.”
CBC North is now considering hosting weekly call-in shows with the chief public health officer, as there is no end to the pandemic in sight.
“We will try to make it happen,” host McGinnis told listeners via Twitter following Thursday’s show.