A Covid-19 containment order is set to lift in Whatì but restrictions will be maintained in Yellowknife and Behchokǫ̀ as outbreaks show no sign of dissipating.
Dr Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer, told reporters on Wednesday she has “no intention of renewing the containment order” in Whatì after a significant drop in the risk of community spread.
Whatì had been in containment since September 11. The latest extension of that order comes to an end on Saturday. Whatì had only one active case of Covid-19 as of Wednesday evening.
“Congratulations, Whatì,” Dr Kandola said. “Sometimes, our smallest communities lead the way.”
In Yellowknife, Dettah, Ndilǫ, and Behchokǫ̀, there is a different story. The current public health orders are being extended until at least October 17, Kandola’s office confirmed on Wednesday evening.
Case numbers in those areas have steadily climbed for the past couple of weeks. The four communities account for 96 percent of current active cases in the NWT, according to Kandola.
As it stands, indoor gatherings are restricted to household members only, with a few exceptions. Non-essential businesses are allowed no more than 10 people indoors per floor – not including a minimal number of staff required to perform operations – while outdoor gatherings have been capped at 25 people.
Orders extended, travel restricted
The most recent public health orders were originally set to expire at 11:59pm on October 11. However, Kandola said she intends to extend them for at least another six days.
“I want to prepare residents of Dettah, Ndilǫ, and Yellowknife that some form of public health order will remain in place until we see significant downward change in the number of daily cases in these communities,” Kandola said.
“Capacity in the healthcare system is not unlimited. These public health orders are in place to slow the spread of Covid-19 to protect limited capacity.”
While the orders will likely be extended, Kandola said she is not looking to tighten restrictions. Current capacity limits will remain the same, and homes and businesses are not likely to be locked down further.
One of the main reasons for the growing outbreak is household spread among those who work with Covid-infected individuals, Kandola continued.
She also suggested travel between Yellowknife and Behchokǫ̀ was partly to blame. Travellers are now no longer allowed into or out of Behchokǫ̀ unless they can demonstrate full vaccination against Covid-19 or show a negative test result.
“We think the best way to for Behchokǫ̀ and Yellowknife to reach the peak and to have more recovered cases than active cases is to isolate separately from each other, so they’re not constantly cross-infecting new households,” Kandola said.
Schools in the communities may reopen for in-person learning on October 18, Kandola added, but only if there is a significant drop in cases. More details are expected next week.
Schools in Yellowknife have been closed since September 14.
After stating 70 percent of people hospitalized by Covid-19 in the territory are unvaccinated, Kandola said public health staff are starting to observe “waning immunity” in fully vaccinated people.
This means the number of protective antibodies created by the vaccine that fight the virus can deplete over time, resulting in more “breakthrough cases,” when a person vaccinated against Covid-19 is infected.
“This is a phenomenon that’s not unique to the NWT,” Kandola said. “We have seen it in Israel, in the UK, the US.
“The vast majority of our cases and … our severe health outcomes have been the non-fully vaccinated. Where we’ve seen these breakthrough cases are people who have had ongoing, close, and prolonged contact with people with Covid – if it was a household member that had Covid, or if they were working at a shelter, or if they’re working at a healthcare facility.”
The Northwest Territories government is currently offering third doses of Covid-19 vaccines to residents aged 75 and older in Yellowknife, Ndilǫ, Dettah, and Behchokǫ̀. Booster shots are being made available to immunocompromised residents, people living in long-term care homes, and frontline workers.
Kandola said the territorial government is not currently considering making third doses available to the general population, only “high-risk populations where the booster will be beneficial.”