All YK schools close as city’s Covid-19 caseload rises

A deserted playground at Yellowknife's NJ Macpherson School in late April 2020
A deserted playground at Yellowknife's NJ Macpherson School in late April 2020. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

All schools in Yellowknife, Dettah, and Ndilǫ are closed after six confirmed and 10 probable cases of Covid-19 were identified.

Mandatory mask-wearing in indoor public spaces is being ordered in Yellowknife from 8am on Monday. However, the NWT’s chief public health officer did not yet declare community spread in the city.

“The six new confirmed cases over the weekend are connected and considered a cluster. To be clear, all of the new cases are linked by time, location and common exposures,” Dr Kami Kandola said.

The NWT government said there were signs of “significant transmission” at the city’s NJ Macpherson School, the site of the first confirmed case in the cluster on Saturday.



Five new exposure advisories were issued. They are detailed below.

All students, staff and others who went to NJ Macpherson School between April 26 and April 30 are “now considered close contacts,” the chief public health officer said. “There have been multiple exposures at each grade level in the school.”

Earlier on Sunday, the NWT’s health authority had advised that anyone considered a “close contact” and their household members must isolate for 14 days, regardless of their vaccination status. That rule applies to all NJ Macpherson close contacts.

However, the NWT government changed its advice on testing for close contacts. Previously, close contacts required a regime of at least three Covid-19 tests while isolating. As of Monday morning, the GNWT says, a test is needed “only if you have been contacted by public health and directed to get testing or if you develop symptoms.”



More: Book a Covid-19 test online in Yellowknife

Sunday’s announcement has the effect of upgrading anyone at the school to close-contact status, mandating isolation for two weeks. As parents scrambled to understand another new set of rules, the GNWT stressed that its advice was evolving over time to meet the changing circumstances.

The YK1 school district said closing all city schools – all school boards are involved – was “a proactive step to mitigate further spread within the community.”

“YK1 understands that families will be eager to learn the details around remote learning for students during this period,” the district said in a statement.

More: Read the GNWT advisory in full
More: Updated Q&A regarding isolation

“Staff are currently working to ensure the structures and resources are in place for learning at home, with the expectation that remote learning will begin for all students on May 5, 2021.

“An update with additional information specific to your child’s school and remote learning plan will be shared with you by the end of the day on May 3.”

The superintendents of YK1 and Yellowknife Catholic Schools told parents in virtually identical letters (you can read the YK1 and Yellowknife Catholic Schools versions) that the news was “of great concern” and “the matter is being handled with the health, wellness and safety of all students and staff as the top priority.”



Kandola said schools will remain closed until further notice.

“This is meant to stop transmission in the highest-risk areas,” she wrote.

Daycares and day homes can remain open, though some – Bright Beginnings, Amanda’s House, ABC Dayhome, Stepping Stones, Tiny Treasures, Little Walkers, and Mes Petits Amis – have already closed temporarily as a result of potential exposure.

“All organized extracurricular activities, clubs and sports for those under 18 shall be cancelled (including those unrelated to schools),” Kandola confirmed.

Exposure advisories

Details of the five exposure advisories issued on Sunday are as follows.

(If you can’t see the image, the details are also printed in the GNWT advisory.)

Stanton Territorial Hospital said some services would be suspended on Monday to allow staff to be redeployed for the expected surge in Covid-19 testing as hundreds of people follow isolate-and-test instructions.

Kandola asked residents who don’t need a test – those who don’t fall into one of the above groups and haven’t been contacted by public health – to “not take away an appointment from someone who needs one” at the test centre.



Meanwhile, she said non-essential travel in and out of Yellowknife, Ndilǫ, and Dettah “should be suspended/deferred until further notice.”

“Remote work is highly encouraged for any employees who are able at this time,” Kandola wrote.

The chief public health officer is due to address the public at 11:30am on Monday, alongside health minister Julie Green and Premier Caroline Cochrane. Cabin Radio will carry the broadcast live via Facebook.

In a joint statement late on Sunday, Cochrane, Green, and education minister RJ Simpson said their government was “ready for this challenge,” pointing to the successful stemming of an outbreak in Fort Liard earlier this year.

“A tremendous amount of work is going on behind the scenes and as soon as more information is known, public health will update NWT residents,” the statement continued.

“We all want to protect our communities and our loved ones, but it’s important that we all remain calm and let our health care professionals do the work that will help keep us protected. We are committed to providing information to residents as soon as we possibly can.”