The Northwest Territories reported 40 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, taking the territory-wide number of active cases during the current outbreak to 170.
Thursday’s increase – reported on the GNWT’s Covid-19 website – was not as large as the 52-case jump reported on Wednesday but remained another big shift for a territory that, for months at a time last year, did not record a single instance of the disease.
All 40 of the new cases came in the Sahtu. There are now 78 cases in Fort Good Hope, 55 in Colville Lake, 10 in Norman Wells, and seven in Délı̨nę. (The territory corrected its figure from 169 to 170 active cases in a second update on Thursday evening, amending Norman Wells from nine cases to 10 to account for one case in a non-resident. That pre-existing case didn’t impact the daily tally of 40 new cases.)
Colville Lake has a population of 151 according to the latest NWT government estimate, meaning more than a third of the community is currently ill with Covid-19.
So far, 37 of the cases have been confirmed as the Delta variant and the others are pending analysis.
Thursday’s figures are an increase on Wednesday’s total of 129 active cases. Ninety-two new cases have been reported in two days – more than the territory recorded in the entire first year of the pandemic.
Some new exposure notifications were issued.
In Yellowknife, the Black Knight pub is now considered an exposure site on the evenings of August 10, 13, and 14, as is Harleys Hardrock Saloon from 12:30am until the bar closed on August 13.
In Inuvik, the Trapper bar from 6pm until close on August 15 and Legion from 3:30pm until 4:30pm on August 14 now carry exposure warnings.
In Délı̨nę, a hand games event, spiritual gathering, community feast, and community breakfasts over the weekend of August 13-15 were all listed as high-exposure settings, meaning anyone who attended must isolate for 10 days and book a Covid-19 test.
Dozens in Délı̨nę get the shot
In other developments on Thursday, health minister Julie Green said she expected the current outbreak to continue growing at a “very alarming” rate and suggested the return of students to schools could yet be affected, though so far plans remain unchanged.
Green said the Sahtu outbreak had overwhelmed the territory’s resources as it was happening in multiple communities at once. The territory is waiting to hear from the federal government and Red Cross about potential supports, including extra staff as reinforcements.
Again urging residents to get fully vaccinated, Green said: “If the vaccination rate had been higher in the Sahtu, I feel pretty confident that we wouldn’t have had the superspreader event that we now have on our hands.”
Norman Wells-based North-Wright Airways suspended flights to and from Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake. Flights to Délı̨nę and Tulita may be cancelled at short notice, the airline said.
In Délı̨nę, meanwhile, staff at the local health centre posting to Facebook said they had vaccinated more than 60 people so far this week as residents respond to the outbreak’s threat.
“The Covid-19 vaccine is the main reason Délı̨nę is doing as well as we are,” the health centre told the community. “We will get through this as a community. It will take time, but we will get through it.”
Behchokǫ̀’s Jimmy Erasmus seniors’ home is now closed to all visitors, the Tlicho Community Services Agency said. while daycares in the community are now also closed to the public.
Booster shots considered
Speaking to Loren McGinnis on the CBC’s Trailbreaker, Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kami Kandola said the NWT government and a national advisory committee were now each contemplating whether, and how, third “booster” vaccine doses might be administered in the NWT.
“We do have an outbreak in a long-term care facility,” said Dr Kandola, referring to the facility in Norman Wells. “Because they were the first to receive the vaccines, if their antibody response is waning, it would be around now because they are the ones that got it earlier. We still have to look at that information.”
Moderna, for example, has reported a “robust” immune response against the Delta variant in people given a booster shot of its vaccine.
Territorial medical director Dr AnneMarie Pegg, speaking on the same show, acknowledged the increasing evidence that it is possible for people to contract Covid-19 more than once.
“The short answer is probably yes,” Dr Pegg said.
She said levels of immunity decrease over time and immunity to one strain did not guarantee immunity to another.
“We don’t know a lot about these variants but yes, it is possible to get it again,” said Pegg, who also called on residents to book a Covid-19 test only if they meet certain criteria.
“We’ve had a huge spike in demand for testing. It’s great that people are interested but we do need to make sure we’re testing the right people … who are most likely to be infected and at higher risk of having severe disease,” she said.