Dr Kami Kandola, the NWT's chief public health officer. Pat Kane/Pat Kane Photo
The Northwest Territories on Monday published a public health order threatening Yellowknife residents who test positive for Covid-19 but don’t properly isolate with a fine, jail, or both.
The order is specific to Yellowknife, Ndilǫ, and Dettah. People in those communities who receive positive Covid-19 tests, it states, “shall immediately isolate themselves from other persons in accordance with the isolation requirements.”
Up till now, NWT-wide public health orders have mandated self-isolation in the context of travel into the territory, and a separate order tells people to self-isolate if they have Covid-19 symptoms. But while isolation once you contract Covid-19 has long been the standard message, it’s hard to find specific references to isolation after a positive test in the NWT’s existing public health orders.
Instead, language ordering isolation if you test positive has begun turning up in recently issued containment orders for places like Whatì, Behchokǫ̀, and Norman Wells.
On Monday evening, asked to confirm what – if any – gap the new isolation order was filling, and whether isolation after a positive test had previously been mandated in any territory-wide public health order, the Covid-19 Secretariat said it was looking into the matter but may not have an answer until Tuesday.
The secretariat said by issuing the order it was “clearly clarifying isolation requirements for persons who test positive.”
Late last week, the NWT government said some “non-compliant” people with Covid-19 posed a threat in Yellowknife. Health minister Julie Green said her government would look to hire additional security staff to address the problem.
“It is an offence pursuant to section 49 of the Public Health Act for a person to fail to comply with the Public Health Act, its regulations or an order made under it,” the order issued on Monday states.
Section 49 of that act provides the NWT with the legal authority to fine someone up to $10,000 for breaking the order, jail them for six months, or both.
The order “remains in effect for the duration of the public health emergency, unless otherwise rescinded,” its text concludes. That emergency has been in place since mid-March 2020.
The isolation order and Monday’s closure of schools together move Yellowknife closer to a form of containment, though no containment order has so far been issued.
In other communities, school closures and the requirement to isolate after a positive test have formed part of containment orders. The other components are ordinarily a limitation on gatherings to household members only and the closure of non-essential businesses, both of which have yet to be ordered in Yellowknife.
There were 97 active cases of Covid-19 in Yellowknife as of Friday, a number thought likely to grow when the figures are updated by the territorial government later on Monday.
In a Monday tweet, Dr Courtney Howard – a Yellowknife emergency room physician – described going for a Covid-19 test after “seeing a lot of Covid-19 in the ER.”
The isolation order came into effect at 5pm on Monday.
The order states people who test positive for Covid-19 in the Yellowknife area must:
stay in the indoor portion of your isolation location for 10 days unless you are advised otherwise by a public health official or your healthcare provider;
not leave the indoor portion of your isolation location unless you need to seek medical attention (if you need medical attention, contact your healthcare provider and follow their instructions);
not have any visitors at your isolation location;
monitor yourself for worsening or severe symptoms if you are at heightened risk of severe disease or outcomes; and
call 9-1-1 if you develop severe symptoms and let them know you have tested positive for Covid-19 and are experiencing symptoms of Covid-19.