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Easing of NWT restrictions postponed as YK deals with cluster

Signs in a Yellowknife post office remind people to maintain physical distancing
Signs in a Yellowknife post office remind people to maintain physical distancing. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio

An update to the NWT’s pandemic recovery plan won’t come until Yellowknife gets through a new cluster of Covid-19 cases, the territory’s chief public health officer said on Monday.

Yellowknife currently has six active cases of Covid-19. Five are related to one cluster and a sixth, separate case involves international travel. There are some 90 contacts for the first cluster of five, the GNWT says, though no public contacts associated with the sixth. There are two active cases in Fort Smith.

Dozens of the Yellowknife cluster’s contacts are students and teachers. There were potential exposures last Monday at École St Patrick High School and at a two-night bonfire at Yellowknife’s sandpits on the evenings of April 16 and 17.

“Given what’s happened and the amount of contacts and exposures, I would be trying to maintain things as they are. This is not a time to relax restrictions,” Dr Kami Kandola told reporters.



Eighty-five of the 90 contacts have been tested for Covid-19 and are either awaiting their result or tested negative. Five have yet to be tested.

Originally, Dr Kandola had been expected to finalize a new version of the Emerging Wisely pandemic recovery plan by the end of April, with the easing of some restrictions anticipated in the first half of May. The next restriction expected to ease is the current limit on outdoor gatherings, which Kandola is anticipated to conclude can be lifted entirely if certain health precautions are in place.

Though those changes will now be delayed indefinitely, alterations announced last week – including a green light for some remote tourism, and a reduction in isolation to as little as eight days for fully vaccinated travellers – will remain in place.

Regarding the decision to postpone any further changes, Kandola explained her reasoning: “We see Canada with the third wave not subsiding and the stress on the healthcare system – plus an anticipation of delays in Moderna vaccine for the rest of Canada, [meaning] they probably won’t be able to achieve an adequate vaccine rollout until later than May.



“And then you see the impact of eight cases occurring in one week.”

Kandola said staff had been working evenings and weekends over the past week to handle the tracing and care of dozens of contacts related to what is currently a five-person cluster of cases.

“Our own capacities are stretched, we’re identifying contacts and deciding whether there is community spread. We don’t want to go back but this is definitely not the time to go forward,” she said.

Kandola stressed that community spread has not currently been identified in Yellowknife, nor has an outbreak been declared. She said the territory still did not have results of analyses that will determine whether any recent cases came from variants of concern.

Parents express concern

The chief public health officer held her Monday news conference to address “public concern” about the past week’s rise in cases. On the weekend, Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland described confusion among the city’s parents.

Writing on Facebook, Cleveland said she had been contacted “by many parents of teens who were at the sandpits bonfire where there was risk of exposure to someone with Covid-19. Parents have let me know that they have been given conflicting isolation guidelines.”

Cleveland said the health minister had told her a letter would be sent to all affected families on Monday, which Kandola confirmed was the case. The MLA said staff at the Department of Health and Social Services had “not stopped working all weekend.”

Speaking on Monday, Kandola said: “Parents are being sent today specific directions and being reminded how to negotiate self-isolation with their teen or child. If you have not been notified, go about your daily routine … while following the public health guidelines we have stressed throughout the pandemic.



“There are currently many in Yellowknife required to self-isolate as we work through this cluster. This is, more than anything else, a safety measure. We must stop this cluster from becoming an outbreak.”

Earlier, Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler took the unusual step of sharing her travel details online after a colleague revealed he had tested positive for Covid-19.

Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn said on Friday he and a family member each had the virus. Norn’s visit to Yellowknife’s Taste of Saigon restaurant last Monday – a day after his 14-day isolation period had ended, he said – triggered an exposure advisory, while the sandpits advisory is also connected to the same set of cases. Norn broke his isolation by visiting the NWT legislature on April 17, staff at the building were told, leaving a security guard in isolation as a result.

“I arrived in Yellowknife for committee meetings on April 19,” Semmler wrote on Facebook. “I have not been at any of the places identified in the public notice for Covid exposure nor have I been in any committee meetings with MLA Norn.”

The chief public health officer declined to answer questions related to Norn on Monday.

“Each incident is reviewed on an individual basis. Privacy legislation mandates that no details about contact tracing investigations can be shared,” she said.

“We know residents are concerned about allegations of individuals posing a risk to others. We do understand there is a public interest [but] I will not be taking any of those types of question. We will not be confirming any details.”