Covid-19 turns up in Hay River sewage, triggers test advisory

A sewage sample is labelled at a Yellowknife lift station in December 2020
A sewage sample is labelled at a Yellowknife lift station in December 2020. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio

Traces of the virus that causes Covid-19 have turned up in Hay River’s sewage system, the NWT government said on Wednesday, urging a range of people to get tested for the disease.

The virus showed up in samples dating from January 1 to 6. The NWT government asked anyone who was isolating in Hay River or the Kátł’odeeche First Nation between those dates to get a Covid-19 test.

The risk to residents of the two communities was unclear.

“The Office of the Chief Public Health Officer is confident that this positive signal indicates that there is likely at least one undetected case of Covid-19 in Hay River,” read a statement issued on Wednesday afternoon.



“It is possible that this signal is from one or more individuals who have travelled and who are now appropriately self-isolating or even left the territory. But it is also possible that Covid-19 has been transmitted to others.

“Currently, there is not enough information to confidently assess public risk.”

So far, the Northwest Territories has avoided any outbreaks of Covid-19 spread from person to person. All 24 confirmed cases in the territory have been linked to travel or immediate transmission within households after a household member returned from travel.

“We are asking the public to assist us in containing the situation quickly and prevent ongoing transmission,” the NWT government said as it urged anyone at any stage of isolation in the communities on those dates to get a test.



“Results from individuals presenting for diagnostic testing and additional wastewater surveillance analysis expected in the coming days will allow us to better characterize the risk to the public in Hay River and the NWT.”

Watch: Cabin Radio’s Sarah Pruys explores how sewage testing for Covid-19 works.

Wednesday’s news came on the same day that Kátł’odeeche First Nation adults were receiving their first dose of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine. Priority groups in Hay River are set to receive their first dose before the end of January.

This is the third time sewage testing in the NWT, introduced in the fall of 2020, has turned up traces of the coronavirus responsible for Covid-19. The first two occasions were in Fort Smith and Yellowknife.

Who should get a test?

The NWT government issued the following advice on who should get a Covid-19 test in response to the positive sewage sample:

“If, between January 1 to January 6, you were in Hay River or Kátł’odeeche First Nation and at any stage of your self-isolation because you entered the NWT from another jurisdiction, you should get tested now even if you don’t have symptoms.

“Essential services workers who were not self-isolating because they received an exemption to work who were in Hay River or KFN between January 1 and January 6 should also be tested.

“This recommendation to get tested does not apply to high-risk essential service workers without symptoms who were already tested as part of their permission to work.

“Those who are self-isolating because someone else in the household has travelled should continue self-isolating. They do not need to get tested unless they develop symptoms. If anyone in the home develops any symptoms of Covid-19, they should contact their local public health unit and arrange for testing.”



How do you book a test?

Testing is available at 52 Woodland Drive, the old medical clinic, from 4pm till 8pm on Wednesday, 8am till 9pm on Thursday, and 8am till 8pm on Friday.

Call public health at (867) 874-8400 to book your appointment. If the line is busy, try again. Staff will take your call.

Tell them you have recently travelled or were isolating between January 1 and January 6 and you need to be tested for Covid-19.

A public health nurse will call you back, complete screening, and help to set up your appointment – including options if you don’t have transport.

Wear a mask for your appointment and follows signs for the drive-through testing area. Don’t go to the test centre (or any other medical facility) unless you’ve booked ahead for a test, to avoid exposing others to any risk.

“If you do receive a positive Covid-19 test, public health officials will work with you to confidentially investigate any people you saw recently who may be at-risk, and any locations where there may have been an exposure risk,” the NWT government said.

“Your information will be kept confidential and public health officials will follow up on your well-being regularly throughout your isolation period to help keep you safe.”