Premier Caroline Cochrane at a public health briefing on March 10, 2021. Sarah Sibley/Cabin Radio
Premier Caroline Cochrane said on Monday her government will not reintroduce heightened public health measures as the number of Covid-19 cases in the Sahtu grows.
Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake were in containment, banning gatherings and closing businesses, as the number of confirmed or probable cases reached 23. Travel to those communities was strongly discouraged. The NWT’s chief public health officer said community spread was taking place.
In some quarters, Monday’s latest update did trigger immediate consequences. A large hand games tournament planned for Yellowknife this coming weekend was postponed until early September – a measure designed to avoid a repeat of what’s happening in Fort Good Hope, where the initial exposure to Covid-19 took place at a hand games event earlier in August that’s now considered a superspreader event.
A similar tournament planned for Behchokǫ̀ this weekend had not been formally postponed as of 1pm on Monday, but organizers faced calls to delay the event.
Even so, Premier Cochrane said a broader rollback to earlier pandemic restrictions would not be ordered.
She told residents her government had “no plans at this time to reinstate restrictions that we have recently removed across the NWT.”
“When we released Emerging Wisely and began to ease the restrictions, we knew that there would likely be an increase in the number of cases in the territory,” Cochrane said.
“Cases have risen across Canada, with what has been described as a fourth wave caused by the Delta variant. But the thing that’s different this time around is our vaccination rates are high, both in the NWT and across Canada.”
The majority of the people involved in the Sahtu group of cases were not vaccinated, Dr Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer, said on Monday as officials again pleaded with residents to get their first or second shots.
In Colville Lake, NWT government figures suggest barely one in five of the community’s 100 or so adults are fully vaccinated, which is easily the lowest takeup rate in the territory. In Fort Good Hope, 61 percent of adults are fully vaccinated – significantly higher but still below-average for the NWT.
With travel booming after some isolation-related restrictions lifted for fully vaccinated residents this summer, Dr Kandola called on residents to help contain what is fast becoming the NWT’s most serious outbreak to date.
“Things are changing quite rapidly,” she said. “For the NWT in general, what we are seeing is a number of introductions of Covid. The ones that we have sequenced so far have been the Delta strain.
“We’ve had a dramatic quadrupling of travel in and out of the Northwest Territories. So with more travel we’ll expect more importations. There is a cluster in the Sahtu but there’s an ongoing risk of importation.
“People who are required to isolate, we’re asking them to isolate responsibly, and for people to self-monitor for symptoms and get tested has needed.”
So far, Kandola said, there is “no indication” Covid-19 has spread in Yellowknife beyond the four probable cases earlier identified. Those four are in people who had been to Fort Good Hope for the August 5-9 hand games tournament.
Kandola said officials were working with organizers of upcoming hand games events. “We always had flagged hand games as a high-risk activity, just by the nature of the close contact,” she said.
Asked how school reopening across the territory might be affected, Kandola said there was no change for now but her team would continually assess the situation in the Sahtu and make specific decisions “as things evolve in the next 10 days.” She urged parents who recently travelled with unvaccinated children to follow isolation rules.