The first Covid-19 patient in Fort Liard had been isolating in Hay River before their return to the community, NWT authorities said as they addressed escalating concern about the coronavirus.
Three Covid-19 cases have been confirmed in Fort Liard in the past day. Health minister Julie Green said on Sunday there was a “good possibility” more would still follow.
The first patient’s isolation in Hay River and return to Fort Liard may explain why Covid-19 has turned up in Hay River sewage samples, though the investigation into that connection continues. It’s too soon to be certain, officials said.
“We do need more data to pursue this theory further and we do expect these results in the coming days,” said Dr Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer.
Kandola said there was no suggestion the standard 14-day isolation period hadn’t worked in this instance or that it required review. Citing patient confidentiality as a reason she could not provide specific detail, she said the circumstances of the case were more complex than that.
The first patient in Fort Liard booked a Covid-19 test in direct response to the NWT government’s earlier appeal for people to come forward after the virus appeared in Hay River’s sewage.
Meanwhile, a rapid response team is heading to Yellowknife’s Aven Manor seniors’ care home as work to trace a mystery case of the virus in the city continues.
Emphasizing there was no ongoing risk to staff or residents at Avens, Kandola said her team was “exploring new leads as we cast a very wide net in an attempt to identify the source of infection.”
So far, the active case in Yellowknife has no explanation. The person involved had not recently travelled outside the territory and no contacts have been identified that would explain how they picked up the virus.
However, there is reason to hope community spread is not taking place.
“If there was widespread transmission, we would have expected to see additional diagnoses,” said Kandola. There have been no further cases in Yellowknife since Friday’s announcement of the mystery positive test.
Kandola said the Covid-19 “signal” in sewage testing had not changed in the latest Yellowknife samples, dated January 11.
Fifty isolating, no exposure advisories
At a Sunday news conference, Kandola and Premier Caroline Cochrane focused on reassuring residents that teams are “working around the clock” to contain what Kandola called a “small community cluster” of Covid-19 in Fort Liard.
The reason for the urgency of the territory’s response is officials’ understanding that the three known Covid-19 patients in the hamlet had been in contact with others while the virus was at a contagious stage.
“We believe there is a good chance there will be additional cases,” said Kandola, a day after issuing a containment order banning all gatherings in Fort Liard and closing many businesses. Masks in the hamlet’s indoor public spaces are now mandatory.
Travel is still allowed but “strongly discouraged.” Nevertheless, a handmade sign placed outside the community on Saturday evening stated “no visitors until further notice.”
Around 50 people are isolating after coming into contact with the hamlet’s three known Covid-19 patients.
Kandola said there were no exposure advisories related to the cases as there appeared to be no instances of exposure in public places along the first patient’s travel route from Hay River or in other communities.
The chief public health officer said that all close contacts in any community – such as Fort Simpson and beyond – had been notified.
“We know we have a good grasp on close contacts of those cases and we know we have reached out to those close contacts, wherever they may be, to isolate,” said Kandola.
“There is no scenario where there is an unidentified case in another community or an unidentified close contact in another community that hasn’t been made aware.”
Cabin Radio understands sewage sampling in Fort Simpson has now been stepped up and will take place daily.
“The smaller communities are asking questions as well and we’re getting that information out there,” said Shane Thompson, an NWT minister and the MLA for Nahendeh who represents both Fort Liard and Fort Simpson.
“The most important aspect we need to stress is 8-1-1,” he said, referring to the NWT’s Covid-19 hotline. “If you have concerns, reach out there.”
Cochrane said the NWT has one public health officer currently enforcing the containment order in Fort Liard. They will be joined by a second later on Sunday and a third by the middle of the coming week, the premier said.
Vaccination in Fort Liard will go ahead
Vaccination against Covid-19 was due to begin in Fort Liard on Thursday. That will still take place, said territorial medical director Dr AnneMarie Pegg.
Pegg said anyone forced to miss out on vaccination while isolating was likely to be offered the opportunity at a later date, with an extra vaccination round in the community likely to be scheduled once the containment order lifts.
Seeking to reassure residents across the territory, health minister Green – joining the news conference by phone as she herself is a little ill, and was preparing to take a Covid-19 test as a precautionary measure – said she understood people were “navigating more uncertainty than we have had to date and it’s making residents feel anxious.”
Green said that was a natural reaction, but she sought to stress the NWT had “been preparing for these kinds of situations.”
She thanked Fort Liard residents for their commitment “both on the ground and online.”
Getting the message to people in Fort Liard is complicated by the lack of reliable high-speed internet access, in common with many other NWT communities, and by the reported absence of CBC broadcasts. Residents said the local CBC transmitter was off the air.
Cochrane said the territory was working closely with community leaders, developing posters and seeking to translate as much information as possible in a bid to reach the community’s more vulnerable residents.
A spokesperson for the NWT’s Covid-19 Secretariat said Indigenous-language radio station CKLB and a local community radio station were being used to deliver messages to Fort Liard residents, while the rapid response team was working on word-of-mouth communication.
“We are extremely confident … that folks in Fort Liard will have the tools they need to push back against Covid-19 in the community,” the spokesperson said.