The NWT government will go ahead with its planned shift in Covid-19 restrictions on Friday, introducing proof-of-vaccination at non-essential businesses that decide to sign up.
Schools in Yellowknife, Dettah, Ndilǫ, and Behchokǫ̀ can fully reopen on Monday, Premier Caroline Cochrane said, after weeks of harsh restrictions on gatherings paid off and brought active case numbers back down.
“This decline is largely because residents have followed the orders and are doing their part,” Premier Cochrane said.
Yellowknife had 129 active cases of Covid-19 as of Tuesday evening, down from a high of 281 on October 8. Behchokǫ̀ had 60 active cases, down from a high of 163 on October 7.
“The NWT is making progress in our fight against Covid-19 in our communities,” said Dr Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer, confirming the changes first advertised last week would kick in at 5pm on Friday.
The form that allows businesses to apply to implement a proof of vaccination requirement is now available on the GNWT’s website. Businesses and groups that sign up will be allowed to increase capacity – up to 100 people indoors and 200 outdoors – if they agree to check people’s vaccination status on entry, allowing access only to fully vaccinated people (or those who can’t be vaccinated, like children under 12).
Without that measure in place, capacity will be limited to 25 people indoors and 50 outdoors.
Julie Green, the NWT’s health minister, said more than 10,000 people had so far downloaded their proof of vaccination credential since a form to request the document went live earlier this month.
Residents can also access proof of vaccination documents in person at their community health centre or, in Yellowknife, at a new service centre in Centre Square Mall. Scott Robertson, the NWT health authority’s executive director of clinical integration, said the territory is developing a process for people who live outside the NWT to be announced in the next week.
NWT plans rapid testing program
As some schools prepare to reopen, the territorial government plans to launch a voluntary Covid-19 screening program for children aged five to 11 who are not yet eligible for vaccination. The pilot will run in 12 schools.
Dr Kandola said children in that age group tend to be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. The program aims to detect Covid-19 early to prevent widespread transmission at large schools.
Robertson said the territory also plans a rapid-testing program – for businesses and organizations with high contact between staff and the public – to detect cases among asymptomatic people. A pilot started this week at shelters in Yellowknife and long-term care facilities.
Robertson anticipates high demand for the program but said it will not replace the proof of vaccination requirement to increase gathering limits. More details are expected in the coming days.
Friday’s changes won’t yet apply to Hay River or the Kátł’odeeche First Nation, which have entered new restrictions that will last until at least early November in an attempt to stem community spread. Non-essential travel between the communities is not recommended.
Green acknowledged those restrictions will not be easy for residents in the affected communities.
“We have learned from previous outbreaks that we can significantly reduce the spread if we all do our part and stay home as much as possible,” she said.
Inuvik, where case numbers are also increasing, is being “monitored closely,” the premier said.