NWT declares Covid-19 outbreak among ‘underhoused’ in YK

A visualization of the virus that causes Covid-19
A visualization of the virus that causes Covid-19. Fusion Medical Animation/Unsplash

The Northwest Territories government has declared a Covid-19 outbreak among the “underhoused and vulnerable population” in Yellowknife.

In a Tuesday press release, Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kami Kandola said since mid-August, 19 people who accessed shelters and 10 health care and shelter support workers have tested positive for Covid-19.

“People that are underhoused and utilize shelters have a much higher risk of Covid-19 exposures,” the release states. “This is a strongly connected community that provides support to one another in many ways and often uses multiple facilities to find shelter on a day to day basis. Covid-19 infections are now impacting one of the Northwest Territories’ most at-risk populations.” 

In response to the outbreak, health officials said they have found alternative facilities for people that use shelters to isolate that provide testing, vaccination, and wrap-around supports. Shelters have introduced screening for Covid-19 symptoms, and mandatory masks and personal protective equipment for workers. 



Last month, following Covid-19 exposure at the Salvation Army men’s shelter, the territorial government began using rooms at the Quality Inn in downtown Yellowknife to allow shelter users to isolate. 

A former shelter worker, who asked that they not be named, told Cabin Radio late last month they were concerned about how that isolation centre was being run saying it was putting people at risk. At the time, they said two staff members had tested positive for Covid-19 and they were worried the number of infections could rise among people experiencing homelessness. 

The territory’s health and social services authority previously told Cabin Radio the isolation centre had Covid-19 protection measures in place.

The outbreak announcement comes as the NWT government continues to search for a temporary warming shelter in Yellowknife while capacity at other shelters in the city are limited due to pandemic restrictions.

There are now a total of 111 active Covid-19 cases among NWT residents and three among non-residents with 64 in Yellowknife and 46 in the Sahtu region. 

In Tuesday’s update, the office of the chief public health officer also said there have now been a total of 16 hospitalizations in the territory since the start of the pandemic and six intensive care unit admissions. Twelve of those hospitalizations are associated with the “current situation.”