A sign at Yellowknife's St Pat's high school. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Yellowknife’s schools are moving to remote learning with immediate effect as the territory battles to stem a growing Covid-19 outbreak.
Closure of Yellowknife school buildings will last until at least the end of September 24, Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kami Kandola said in a statement on Monday.
Dr Kandola’s office said the decision marked a “very significant shift” in the NWT government’s response, and the sheer number of new infections meant public health staff were no longer “able to complete testing and contact tracing in a timely fashion that would reliably prevent further transmission at schools.”
As of Friday, there were 97 active Covid-19 cases in Yellowknife. An updated number is expected later on Monday.
The closure extends to schools in Dettah and Ndilǫ.
“The increase in Covid-19 activity in Yellowknife risks the safety of our students, especially those under the age of 12 who are not eligible for vaccination,” said Kandola.
“This order affects JK-12 students, colleges, and trade schools. Day homes and daycares are exempt from this order and may remain open under existing plans.
“School closures will place a significant burden on families. If you have the capacity to help, please reach out to your neighbours and fellow community members and help one another out where it is needed.”
Staff at the NWT’s health authority were told of the decision to close schools moments before Kandola issued Monday’s advisory.
In an email to all staff, deputy territorial medical director Dr Katherine Kessler said she expected Yellowknife’s healthcare system to be short-staffed on Tuesday as parents scramble for childcare.
“We recognize the deep impact that this has on our staff, as many of you will find yourselves suddenly without childcare options,” Dr Kessler wrote, saying the health authority was working to find “alternative solutions” for parents.
“In the meantime we must make emergency alterations to our operations in anticipation of significant staffing shortfalls tomorrow.”
YK1 superintendent Dr Cindi Vaselenak said in a letter to parents her school district was “following the direction given” and would shift to remote learning by Thursday. More information was promised by 4pm on Wednesday.
Candace Meadus, a trustee of Yellowknife Catholic Schools, set out a similar timeline on Twitter.
“Staff have prepared for this. It is not easy work, and this transition will affect their families as well,” Meadus wrote.
“Remote learning is expected to start Thursday. You will see more info from teachers by end of tomorrow. Thank you for your patience as staff put plans into action.”