One third of NWT residents ‘at higher Covid-19 risk’

Last modified: June 11, 2020 at 3:11pm

The NWT’s health minister says one third of the territory’s residents are considered to be immunocompromised or at high risk of complications related to Covid-19.

Diane Thom said modelling based on the experience of other areas “could translate to 450 deaths” among NWT residents, which was why restrictive public health measures had been put in place.

Rylund Johnson, the MLA for Yellowknife North, called the number of those at risk “a truly terrifying statistic.” The NWT has around 45,000 residents, just under half of whom live in Yellowknife.


Johnson said he had made multiple requests for more information about models used by the NWT to predict the disease’s impact on the territory under different scenarios.

So far, he said, no information had been provided.

Asked by Johnson how many residents are considered high-risk or immunocompromised by the NWT government, Thom said that description applied to “a third of the residents of the NWT.”

Johnson – who said he brought sensitive questions about the pandemic to the legislature as he had been unable to receive answers through other channels – then asked how many people models suggested might be hospitalized, or die, if Covid-19 spread through the Northwest Territories.

Thom said modelling the possible impact of Covid-19 in the NWT is a challenge in part because no community transmission (spread from person to person, unrelated to outside travel) has taken place. That means there’s nothing on which to directly model the disease’s behaviour in the territory.


Instead, Thom said, modelling is being informed by what has happened in similar areas like northern regions of Canada’s provinces.

“What we know from other regions is approximately 80 percent of infections are mild enough to be managed at home, 15 percent are hospitalized, five percent require the intensive care unit, and approximately one percent die,” said Thom.

“In the NWT this could translate to 450 deaths from Covid-19.

“In order to delay the spread of Covid-19 as much as possible, we put public health measures in place early – before any evidence of community transmission. This has helped us contain the spread of the virus.”


Johnson said the prospect of 450 residents dying should be “avoided at all costs.”

Second phase imminent

The NWT is believed to be on the verge of progressing to its second phase of pandemic recovery, which will allow dine-in restaurants and movie theatres to reopen – with certain restrictions in place – while increasing the number of people allowed at outdoor gatherings.

The territory’s travel restrictions are also expected to evolve once more on Friday.

The NWT government has spent the week making a series of attempts to explain changes made at its borders in late May, which appear to make it easier for non-residents without travel exemptions to enter the territory.

Senior officials at the territorial government, while unable to confirm details of Friday’s announcement, have suggested a new set of travel-related rules will be introduced.

Those rules are expected to make travel easier in at least some circumstances. Officials insist they will provide significantly more clarity than the past week’s changes.

Restaurants in the NWT have been preparing for a move to phase two on Friday and some have already announced their intention to open on that day.

Similarly, NWT Parks has anticipated a move to phase two on Friday by allowing bookings for overnight camping at its campgrounds beginning that night.

NWT Parks said refunds would be issued if, for some reason, the move to the second phase was delayed.

A news conference has yet to be formally scheduled by the NWT government but is expected on Friday afternoon.