Yellowknife’s Covid-19 testing facilities will have expanded hours for the rest of this week and potentially into the weekend to allow more opportunity for people to get tested.
The NWT government said “rapid response teams” will also be placed at the isolation centre in Yellowknife so people isolating have access to testing without leaving the facility.
Moves to increase testing availability come after traces of Covid-19 were detected in samples of Yellowknife’s sewage taken between November 30 and December 4. The results of those samples came back in the past two days.
They are concerning as the territory says the volume of virus found in the sample seems to show there are undetected cases of Covid-19 in the community. The sample is larger than would be expected from the one person known to have had Covid-19 at the time, the territorial government said.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kami Kandola said the territory was “casting the net wide.” She again urged anyone who travelled outside the NWT then isolated in Yellowknife from November 30 to December 9 to get tested.
Kandola said that includes individuals who have since headed back to their home communities but were isolating in Yellowknife over that period.
“Our commitment to you is that we will share new information when we have it,” she said.
“The commitment we need from you is to be ready to adapt if new evidence calls for new guidance.”
The territory is in the process of contacting individuals that officials believe should get tested.
Kandola says there may be hundreds of people who need to be contacted. She asked people to take the initiative and book a Covid-19 test before hearing from the territorial government.
Scott Robertson, one of the leaders of the NWT health authority’s Covid-19 response, said testing facilities at the Yellowknife Primary Care Clinic will be open from 8:30am until 8pm on Thursday and Friday. Weekend hours could be extended.
Robertson asked people in Yellowknife to book tests online before heading in and reminded residents not to head to emergency departments for tests.
The cold weather means drive-through testing is no longer offered from a tent outside the downtown Yellowknife clinic.
How does sewage testing work?
Wastewater testing is currently happening in five NWT communities – Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith, Inuvik, and Fort Simpson – covering about 50 percent of the territory’s population.
That form of testing can’t determine the exact source of Covid-19 when the virus is detected. The sample could have come from anywhere in the community.
Equally, whether the virus is being transmitted or is confined to a very limited number of people can’t be determined this way.
On Wednesday afternoon, Kandola said samples from November 30 to December 2 and a newly reported sample from December 2 to December 4 each showed the same amount of “signal,” or virus trace.
Each sample is sent to a lab in Winnipeg for analysis, which means a delay of several days before the results of those samples are known.
Results from the next set of samples, taken from December 4 to December 7, are expected late this week or early next.
This is not the first time wastewater sampling has picked up the virus in the NWT.
When there were five confirmed Covid-19 cases in Fort Smith, Kandola said sampling in the community picked up the virus.
Kandola said in some instances, people who have previously had the virus can be “shedding dead virus” for days after their recovery. That, too, can trigger a positive result from sewage sampling.
The chief public health officer sought to reassure residents that information relating to anyone getting tested, or testing positive, remains confidential.
“The bottom line is that coming forward is the best thing you can do for your community right now,” she said.
Kandola said an update on vaccines would be coming on Friday.
On Wednesday, Health Canada approved Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine. However, as the CBC reported on Monday, the North may not have the capacity to transport Pfizer’s vaccine in the ultra-cold conditions needed for it to remain effective.
An alternative vaccine made by Moderna will be easier to transport but is yet to be approved.