Covid-19 traces have been found in samples of Yellowknife’s sewage and anyone isolating in the city from November 30 onward as a result of travel needs to be tested for the virus, the NWT government said.
Samples collected between November 30 and December 2 “signalled undetected Covid-19,” Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kami Kandola said in a Wednesday advisory.
“Anyone who was self-isolating in Yellowknife since November 30 until present should have a Covid-19 test,” Kandola said.
“This means if, between November 30 and now, you were in Yellowknife and at any stage of your self-isolation because of travelling into the NWT, you should get tested now – even if you don’t have symptoms.”
That instruction also applies to essential workers who’ve been in Yellowknife since November 30 and received exemptions to work.
It does not, however, apply to high-risk essential workers – such as healthcare staff – who were already tested for Covid-19 as part of the process of being cleared to work.
People isolating because someone else in their household has travelled should continue isolating but don’t need to get a Covid-19 test unless they develop symptoms.
There have been no confirmed cases of the virus in Yellowknife since November 27. The territory remains at a total of 15 confirmed cases since the pandemic began.
However, the territory’s medical officials have long acknowledged the likelihood that some cases could be going undetected.
Kandola said the appearance of Covid-19 in the sewage system left her unable to “confidently assess” the current level of public risk.
“It is possible that this signal is from one or more individuals who have travelled and who are now appropriately self-isolating, or have even left the territory,” she stated.
“But it is also possible that Covid-19 has been transmitted to others.
“With evidence pointing toward at least one undetected case of Covid-19 in Yellowknife, we are asking for the public’s assistance in identifying any cases so we can contain the situation quickly and prevent ongoing transmission.”
Further results in the next two days are expected to make it easier for the risk to be assessed, Kandola said.
She added around 300 Covid-19 tests in Yellowknife since November 30 had all come back negative.
An internal GNWT Q&A document – shared online and subsequently verified by Cabin Radio – stated the sample in question contained enough Covid-19 that officials believe the patient responsible for the November 27 positive test could not be the only source.
That document said the level of Covid-19 was, even so, “relatively weak” and “not suggestive of widespread transmission.”
Whether or not community spread is taking place in Yellowknife was “premature to determine from the available information,” the document added.