As the NWT’s first Covid-19 patient approaches two weeks since their positive test result, the NWT’s chief public health officer set out what she expects to happen next for the territory.
Dr Kami Kandola said the territory’s first resident to test positive for the disease continues to make a good recovery. Different people take different lengths of time to recover, she said. If hospital is needed – it wasn’t, in this case – it can take weeks.
“In terms of this case, [patient one] is recovering well at home and we are in the process of testing [their] recovery through doing two swabs,” Dr Kandola told Cabin Radio on Tuesday.
“Once the person is showing no symptoms, we do a Covid-19 test. If that’s negative, we do another Covid-19 test in 24 hours.”
If both come back negative, the person is “deemed to be recovered.”
A public health order set out by Kandola’s office on March 21 forces people entering the NWT to complete a self-isolation plan (there are some exceptions). That self-isolation plan must include a full 14 days of isolation in one of the NWT’s four largest communities.
Disobeying the order can result in a fine of up to $10,000 and six months in jail.
“If you’re exposed to Covid-19 it can take up to 14 days before you develop symptoms,” Kandola said. “The 14 days reflects the incubation period of Covid-19.”
The travel restrictions are designed to limit the spread of the virus and, in particular, protect smaller communities with limited access to advanced medical facilities.
When will the NWT go back to normal?
Kandola told Cabin Radio the next few weeks may be key to determining how long restrictions must remain in place. The return to some form of normality is expected to take months.
“Global cases continue to rise,” she said. “We have about 826,000 cases [globally], probably more at this time, and 40,000 deaths. We know the USA is the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak; they sit at around 175,000 cases.
“The other data I am watching is what is happening in Canada, and Canada is still going up on this epidemic curve.”
Kandola says physical distancing measures – staying well away from each other – remain “critical in terms of how fast we reach the peak.”
She said: “We need to be practising these measures and we will be able to see in the next several weeks whether the curve is flattening.”
Health authorities in the Yukon, which has now reported five cases of Covid-19, believe four of them are related to one “cluster.”
That’s a situation Kandola is working to avoid in the NWT.
“We know when there are mass gatherings together, if someone has Covid-19 … that’s when you can get a cluster-type outbreak,” Kandola said. “We are seeing cluster-type outbreaks across Canada.
“Seemingly innocuous events that we’ve all participated in – going to a church gathering, going to a dentist, a conference, a funeral – before you know it, you have a cluster of cases.”
It’s more than a week since Kandola urged residents to cancel all gatherings of any size.
Going on land ‘not meant for large groups’
The territory’s chief public health officer reiterated her message sent out last weekend after a resident publicly disobeyed an order to isolate in Hay River on reentering the NWT.
“We expect people to take this seriously and recognize that, by not doing so, they are hurting our communities, their friends, families, and especially their Elders,” Kandola said.
Money has begun flowing from the federal government to help northerners get out onto the land if they’re comfortable doing so. Kandola has in the past recommended spending time on the land as a way to put distance between yourself and others.
“Everyone who chooses to find distance on the land, keep [a safe] physical distance,” she said on Tuesday.
“If you are going on the land, this was not meant for large groups but for households. If you are on mandatory isolation, you are not to go out on the land – you are to remain at home and not put others in danger.”
Kandola also cautioned the territory’s young people, who might be having mass gatherings or parties at their homes, that Covid-19 can spread with remarkable ease.
“It just takes one party with one person who has Covid-19 and you’ll get a cluster outbreak,” Kandola said.
“A lot of people think, ‘I’m young, it’s going to be mild for me, I don’t have to worry,’ [but] we do know that 30 percent of hospitalizations are under the age of 40.”
She added: “There are measures we can take to slow down Covid-19 introduction. It’s only for two weeks, but the impact you can make for our communities is incredible.
“We’re asking everyone to step up and do their part.”