Coronavirus

Faster tests, a key to easing NWT restrictions, due in 2 to 4 weeks

Last modified: April 22, 2020 at 4:15pm


Northwest Territories health officials say they expect faster testing for Covid-19 to be deployed at the Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife within two to four weeks.

At a Wednesday news conference, NWT medical director Dr Sarah Cook said the territory was still awaiting two new types of devices that can deliver test results on-site within an hour.

Under the territory’s current testing process, samples have to be sent to a lab in Alberta for analysis. 

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Dr Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer, has said quick-turnaround testing could allow her to be more confident that parts of the territory are free of Covid-19, allowing restrictions to be eased.

The first test, named the Xpert Xpress, uses disposable cartridges containing chemicals. Cepheid, the American company behind the machine, says it can produce test results within 45 minutes.  

Cook expects that technology to arrive in the territory relatively soon. She hopes it will be up and running at the hospital within two to four weeks, possibly even sooner, following initial setup and training.

The territory next expects to deploy Spartan Bioscience’s Cube Covid-19 system in regional centres.

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This is a portable, handheld, cube-shaped device that also involves single-use cartridges. It can provide positive test results in 30 minutes, according to the Canadian manufacturer.

Cook said that technology is not on the ground in the NWT yet and noted there are some challenges posed by the chemicals the device uses. 

As of Wednesday morning, 1,634 Covid-19 test swabs had been taken in the NWT. Thirty-seven were awaiting results. 

Ramping up testing in the NWT is part of the territorial government’s plan to improve monitoring – what it calls “public health surveillance” – in the hope of easing restrictions like bans on gatherings.

Earlier on Wednesday, Dr Kandola said it would be at least four to six weeks before the government begins reducing pandemic restrictions in a phased approach. Before then, Kandola said travel restrictions will tighten at the territorial border and remain in place until Canada has approved a vaccine, which is estimated to take between 12 to 18 months.

New enforcement numbers, masks from Alberta

The territorial government also on Wednesday released new data on self-isolation and enforcement in the territory.

According to the numbers, a total of 2,553 self-isolation plans had been filed in the NWT as of Wednesday morning. The plans are mandatory for most people entering the territory.

With the NWT’s new pandemic enforcement team deployed, the territory says 391 complaints related to public health orders have now been investigated. Those investigations resulted in 74 warnings.

Just one of those warnings was a formal written warning, issued in the Sahtu region. Kandola was unable to offer details about that case but said anyone who isn’t following the rules will be given a verbal warning followed by a written warning.

The enforcement team can issue tickets up to $1,500 or a court summons that could result in a maximum fine of $10,000.

Meanwhile, the Alberta government on Wednesday said it would be sending a supply of masks to the Northwest Territories.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced 20,000 “procedural masks” would be sent north.

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