Yellowknife reported 27 active Covid-19 cases on Friday, an increase of six in the past day, as concern grew about the healthcare system’s test-and-trace capacity over the holidays.
The NWT’s health authority issued an advisory that warned tests were in high demand but capacity in Yellowknife “is currently limited,” urging people to only book a test if absolutely needed.
Tests are reserved, the authority said, for people with Covid-19 symptoms, who need tests to exit isolation, are essential workers, or who have been told to get tested by public health.
“There is high demand for testing due to an increase in the number of positive Covid-19 cases and exposures. This is likely due to a higher number of contacts and exposures due to the nature of the holiday season,” the health authority said in its Friday statement.
“This is also increasing the time it takes for public health staff to notify contacts of their exposures to positive cases.”
The authority said more capacity for testing had been added on Boxing Day but even so, the number of available appointments remained limited.
Earlier on Friday, an NWT resident – asking for anonymity to discuss their family’s health – described to Cabin Radio a relative being instructed to get tested on days one and eight following their return from travel, only to find they could not book a test until at least December 29. (The GNWT’s advice in this instance is to book for the next available day.)
The NWT’s health authority acknowledged delays across the system, including in the process of tracing and speaking with contacts of Covid-19 cases.
The territory is now asking people who test positive to help by notifying close contacts themselves, in a bid to cut down what is currently a three-day wait for contacts to hear from public health.
“If you are notified by someone that you were a close contact, please isolate, assess yourself for symptoms, and await guidance from public health regarding testing,” the health authority stated on Friday.
“Do not present to the testing site unless you have symptoms or you have received guidance to do so.”
The authority urged anyone entering the NWT to “limit your contacts for the first 72 hours,” repeating messaging the territory’s chief public health officer has promoted urgently this week. The first three days after contracting the Omicron variant are now considered the most vital to carefully manage.
While rapid tests – now being handed out by the territory at Yellowknife and Inuvik airports – can be used for some purposes, such as initial at-home tests on returning to the NWT, there are a range of circumstances where rapid tests currently cannot be used.
For example, the NWT’s health authority says tests to shorten isolation must be performed by a healthcare provider, as must tests if someone is symptomatic or has been sent to get tested by public health.
“Please remember as you go about your holiday revelry: this is the second Christmas that many health and social services front-line workers have had to forgo their own time with family and friends to provide services related to Covid-19,” the authority wrote.
“This is on top of the regular services that continue 24/7 within the operations of the health and social services system. Your actions can help limit spread of Covid-19.”