Edmonton, one of the biggest points of entry to the NWT, is experiencing an increase in active Covid-19 cases – but the territory believes it can contain travel-related spread of the disease.
As of Tuesday there were 631 active cases of Covid-19 in the Edmonton area. The zone had a cumulative total of 1,500 cases by July 24, but has seen that figure leap to 2,500 in the past three weeks.
In the past week, the area – including Edmonton and smaller, nearby communities like Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, and St Albert – has recorded new cases at a faster rate than any other area of the province.
The vast majority of traffic into the NWT currently arrives via Alberta, much of it through Edmonton’s airport. On average, two to three flights arrive into the territory from Edmonton each day.
Incoming travellers are expected in almost all cases to isolate for 14 days on arrival, in one of four hubs: Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River, or Fort Smith.
The NWT’s chief public health officer said on Wednesday she believes that requirement will ensure travel-related cases cannot easily spread to the territory’s population.
“We anticipate there will be travel-related cases as the weeks go on,” Dr Kami Kandola told reporters.
“But if we have a travel-related case that comes in, self-isolates for 14 days, and it’s within that 14-day period they develop symptoms and get tested and they’re Covid-positive, we would keep that case isolated.”
Kandola said her staff would carry out contact tracing, then test and isolate anyone affected to “try to minimize the impact that a travel-imported case has.”
She added: “If that travel-related case is easily contained, just like our previous five active cases that have now recovered, we wouldn’t necessarily go back a phase, we would continue in phase two where we’re at.”
The NWT last reported a confirmed case of Covid-19 in April. All five cases were directly related to travel.
The upward trend in Edmonton cases was termed a “wake-up call” by Alberta’s chief medical health officer, Dr Deena Hinshaw, on Tuesday.
“Within these pockets of transmission, these social gatherings, it’s critical that each one of us thinks about our activities and thinks that Covid will stop with us,” Hinshaw said.
Meanwhile, Kandola said her office was closely watching what happens as children in southern provinces return to school.
She said how that plays out will help the NWT to determine whether to expect “a larger second wave or … small peaks and valleys.”
The territory’s pandemic recovery plan says phase three can only be reached once a second wave in southern Canada has been and gone.
‘Stick to your plan’
There has been a steady increase in the number of self-isolation plans submitted by residents looking to come home, teachers, and infrastructure workers, according to Kandola.
More than 900 self-isolation plans were filed last week, according to a territorial government statement on Tuesday.
The territory-wide public health emergency was extended for the eleventh time on the same day.
Conrad Baetz, head of the NWT’s Covid-19 enforcement task force, said the majority of people are responsibly adhering to the rules of self-isolation and completing symptom checks every four days.
A major concern cited by Kandola is the potential for a “super spread,” where larger gatherings – such as house parties, not currently permitted by health regulations – take place and everyone in attendance is exposed.
With some people breaking self-isolation protocols in the previous weeks, Kandola and Baetz urged all residents in isolation to follow their plans.
“Stick to it. It’s the single best way to stop an outbreak and the foundation of our public health response,” Kandola said.
“You’re doing this for your family, your friends, your community, because we will get more Covid-19 cases.”
Sarah Sibley contributed reporting.
Clarification: August 20, 2020 – 13:38 MT. This article initially did not make clear that the Edmonton zone, for Covid-19 reporting purposes, includes both the city and a number of smaller, nearby communities.