The NWT government is now instructing entire households to isolate if even one member returns from travel outside the territory.
The new guidance, effective immediately, is a significant upgrade on previous instructions. Until now, individuals could choose to isolate from other household members within a home, allowing the others to continue their lives uninterrupted.
As of Wednesday, anyone arriving into an NWT household from outside the territory will automatically trigger two weeks of isolation for everyone in that household.
“This means no going to school, work, visits, or running errands for the entire household for 14 days,” the territory stated, saying the change came “in light of record levels of Covid-19 cases across Canada.”
The one exception to the new rule comes if a home has a self-contained separate suite with its own entrance, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom. In that case, the traveller can isolate in the suite and other household members are unaffected.
The new guidance is not retroactive. If you arrived in the NWT before it came into effect on Wednesday, November 18, it doesn’t apply to you.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kami Kandola also said on Wednesday non-essential travel outside the NWT is now “strongly discouraged.”
That warning comes with the holiday season weeks away and some residents intending to travel away from the NWT to visit family. However, many residents have already cancelled travel plans as Covid-19 case numbers surge elsewhere in Canada.
“We are continuing to remind everyone that non-essential travel out of the Northwest Territories is not recommended in order to avoid Covid-19 high risk areas,” Kandola stated.
“Today, the daily cases in Canada are double what were occurring in the first wave. Recent models have indicated Canada’s daily caseload could rise to more than 10,000 by early December.
“The risk is higher than ever of contracting Covid-19 while you travel – so please try to avoid travel unless you absolutely must.”
That plea was accompanied by a warning that there can be significant delays in southern contact tracing, meaning you may not find out you were exposed to Covid-19 elsewhere in Canada – or the world – until long after you’re back in the NWT.
That makes isolating properly – just in case – all the more important, Kandola said.
‘Plan with your household’
Instructing entire households to isolate if just one member returns from travel could mean some households must frantically revise or abandon travel plans.
“Travellers will need to plan accordingly with their household,” the territorial government said.
Previous advice that you could isolate at home without impacting others as long as you physically distanced has been scrapped and no longer applies.
In practice, there had always been questions about how effectively families or even housemates could follow strict isolation procedures within the same home for a full two weeks.
Essential workers affected by a traveller returning to their household must now complete a worker’s self-isolation plan, have their employer apply for permission to work during the 14-day isolation period, and await approval from the chief public health officer.
Exemptions for non-resident essential workers remain the same.
“Until there is an effective, available treatment or vaccine, there will always be risk,” Kandola concluded.
“But we can always take some control over our risk by keeping on top of these practices every day.”
The NWT has recorded 15 confirmed cases of Covid-19 during the pandemic, of which five remain active – all in a single Fort Smith household.
Nunavut, where cases have risen sharply in recent days, now has 70 confirmed cases of the virus. That increase prompted the NWT to close its travel bubble with Nunavut earlier this week. Travellers from Nunavut must now follow the rules that apply to anyone else entering the NWT.
There have been 25 confirmed cases in the Yukon.