Yellowknife’s latest Covid-19 outbreak is pushing the city to the “brink of community spread,” NWT Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kami Kandola said on Monday.
There are now eight confirmed and 12 probable cases connected to an outbreak of the disease centred on the city’s NJ Macpherson School. All city schools have been closed indefinitely. The “vast majority” of those cases involve children, Dr Kandola said.
Kandola said community spread had not yet taken place but the city was close as investigations continue into the disease’s spread so far.
She said the school closure was a form of “circuit breaker” designed to help trap the outbreak before that tipping point is reached. There was not yet a need for a full lockdown, Kandola said, hesitating over terming the current situation – in which hundreds of students and families are isolating – a partial lockdown.
“We are on the brink of community spread but when we declared an outbreak at NJ, in pretty-much all the grades there were cases,” Kandola told reporters at a Monday news conference.
“To date, all the cases have been connected to the specific outbreak in NJ. We haven’t had any other cases occurring that haven’t travelled or have not been connected to close contacts.”
Kandola was not able to confirm how the first case in the NJ Macpherson cluster had acquired the disease.
“This is a cluster in and of itself,” Kandola said.
“We are currently investigating any links to the Yellowknife cluster,” she added, referring to a five-case cluster in the city last month. Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn proactively identified himself as the first case in the Yellowknife cluster.
Kandola said the NJ Macpherson cluster had no connection to an exposure advisory issued for École St Patrick High School in connection with the earlier Yellowknife cluster. “At this point, no other school has met the definition of an outbreak,” she said.
The NWT’s medical director, Dr AnneMarie Pegg, said testing for Covid-19 was being focused on highest-risk contacts in the NJ Macpherson outbreak. Efforts were under way to expand testing capacity, Dr Pegg said, and allow more appointments in the coming days.
Addressing the public at Monday’s news conference, Premier Caroline Cochrane said an outbreak like this in Yellowknife was “inevitable” but stressed her government was prepared.
“The situation in Yellowknife is fluid and we don’t have all the answers yet,” Cochrane said, adding closing schools was “meant to ensure the spread was contained” and eliminate unnecessary risks.
“It’s important that we all remain calm and committed to following the public health orders and recommendations,” the premier said.
“We need to support our community members who are now isolating.”
Several hundred people in Yellowknife are believed to be isolating as a result of connection to the NJ Macpherson cluster.
Those who are losing income as a result may be eligible to claim a federal benefit that offers up to $2,000 per month if you’re unable to work and lose more than half of your income for any period.