Yellowknife’s Salvation Army and Copperhouse restaurant and bar are among the first organizations to join a new Covid-19 screening program for NWT employers.
The initiative is dubbed Detect NWT, a riff on Protect NWT, the existing Covid-19 information and enforcement agency. Participating businesses and organizations are given rapid tests for their employees.
The aim is to detect Covid-19 early among asymptomatic individuals who have frequent contact with the public, to reduce the spread of the disease.
Mark Henry, co-owner of Copperhouse, described the tests as being similar to a pregnancy test. So far, he said, employees have taken a total of 50 tests. All have come back negative for Covid-19.
“That gives us a ton of confidence that our serving staff, who are interacting with our guests in close proximity, are at a very low likelihood of spreading the virus to our guests,” he told reporters at an NWT government news conference on Tuesday.
“Business continuity, staying safe, these are the things that are important to us.”
Jason Brinson, executive director of the city’s Salvation Army, said the tests are “another layer of protection” against Covid-19 for groups whose employees work with vulnerable people.
Health minister Julie Green said she hoped the new rapid testing program would help the territory to “return to life as normal, or as normal as we can make it.”
Green said: “We want to get to a point where early detection of Covid prevents outbreaks and then the kind of disruptions we’ve just lived through here in Yellowknife, where schools are closed and businesses are closed and people are working from home.”
The NWT’s health authority has an initial supply of 30,000 tests for the program. Melissa Holzer, a registered nurse who is leading Detect NWT, said several businesses have already shown interest.
The program uses Panbio rapid tests, manufactured by Abbott. Samples are collected using a swab taken from inside the lower region of the nose. Results are available in 15 minutes.
The same tests are being used in a voluntary at-home Covid-19 screening program that recently began for families in Yellowknife, Ndilǫ, Dettah, Hay River, Behchokǫ̀, and Inuvik.
While that program initially targeted children aged five to 12, the Department of Health and Social Services said on Tuesday junior kindergarten students at participating schools were now included.
Holzer said the tests have a specificity rate – or the ability to correctly generate a negative result – of around 99 percent. She said they have a sensitivity rate – how often they correctly produce a positive – of 50 to 90 percent.
Holzer said for the best results, organizations should test employees at least twice a week.
Private and not-for-profit employers interested in the program can apply to the health authority to participate.