Yellowknife, Ndilǫ, Dettah, and Behchokǫ̀ will return to restrictions on gathering sizes from 5pm on Wednesday, the territory’s chief public health officer says.
Gatherings in homes will be limited to five people from outside the household, to a maximum of 10 people indoors, harking back to a restriction in place at the start of the pandemic in 2020.
Indoor public gatherings are restricted to 25 people and outdoor gatherings to 50 in those communities, with social distancing.
Businesses and facilities considered essential (a list is given in the public health order) can break the 25-person limit “provided staffing levels are limited to the minimum number of staff required to carry on operations.”
Some indoor activities are no longer allowed unless specifically approved, including team and contact sports, dancing, live music, and hand games. Extracurricular activities for children under 12 aren’t permitted indoors without the chief public health officer’s permission.
The measures will be in place until at least the end of September 22, the GNWT said.
Kindergarten, daycares, and schools and colleges are exempt from the order and will follow their existing plans.
Dr Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer, said schools did not need to close.
“With the measures we have – mandatory masking, classroom bubbles, high vaccination rate – schools can continue. Where we are seeing the exposures and transmissions is outside school settings,” Dr Kandola told reporters.
Closing extracurricular programs would ensure different schools did not mix, limiting the likelihood of Covid-19 spreading among multiple schools at once, Kandola added.
More ICU beds for Stanton
As of Tuesday night, there were 114 active Covid-19 cases in the territory, of which 64 were in Yellowknife. There have now been more than 500 cases among NWT residents since the pandemic began, of which 395 came in the past month.
Nineteen people using Yellowknife shelters and 10 support staff have been infected with Covid-19 in recent weeks as the territory-wide outbreak evolves.
“Without public health interventions there is significant risk that these cases will continue to grow and stretch our healthcare system resources beyond capacity,” the territorial government said in a news release on Wednesday.
“Our healthcare system is not yet overwhelmed but we are sitting on a critical precipice,” said Kim Riles, chief executive of the NWT’s health authority.
Riles said Yellowknife’s Stanton Territorial Hospital was moving from four to six intensive care beds to meet demand, and would make available three additional inpatient beds.
Some elective surgeries are being postponed. The health authority provided full details of changes to services on its website.
“New routine or non-urgent appointments will not be booked, but added to the call-back list,” the health authority told Yellowknife residents on Wednesday. Urgent appointments are not affected, the authority said.
Non-urgent surgeries and procedures, pap tests, and “complete physicals” will be delayed or cancelled.
“Elective procedures that require same-day admissions will be reviewed and most will be cancelled. Further elective surgeries may be reduced depending on capacity,” the authority said.
“We need to move quickly to relieve that pressure,” said Julie Green, the NWT health minister. “I know what we’re asking of residents can be difficult, but this is what’s required.”
Alberta hospitals are still accepting patients transferred by the NWT, Riles said, adding so far nobody affected by the current outbreak had been transferred to Alberta.
Premier Caroline Cochrane said GNWT staff would be sent to work from home where possible.
Six hospitalized in past week
Multiple employees at Stanton Territorial Hospital on Tuesday said its intensive care unit is now full, though a spokesperson for the territory’s health authority disputed this without providing figures.
Hospitals in Alberta, ordinarily a backup for the NWT healthcare system, are themselves operating at near capacity and cancelling surgeries to make space.
Yellowknife healthcare workers described a hard Labour Day weekend at the hospital, and the territorial government said on Tuesday six people with Covid-19 have been admitted to hospital in the past week.
Officials from Premier Cochrane down had for months insisted the NWT would not reinstate stiffer public health measures, but the scale of the latest outbreak – hundreds of cases, multiple communities, and recent clusters within a Yellowknife school and among city residents without homes – had already tested that resolve. Mandatory mask-wearing returned to the territory last week.