Leading NWT health officials on Wednesday said the impact of the latest Covid-19 outbreak on the territory is not reflected solely in the number of hospitalizations.
As of Wednesday evening there were 1,197 active Covid-19 cases across the territory, the most the NWT has recorded to date. The number of related hospital admissions remained at one.
Territorial medical director Dr AnneMarie Pegg told reporters that while hospitalizations were lower, proportionally, than in earlier outbreaks, the healthcare system was creaking under so many cases – and people needed to do their part to prevent a caseload that cannot be handled.
“There has been a very, very severe impact on the function of critical infrastructure as a result of the Omicron wave,” Dr Pegg said.
“While individual people are perhaps not getting as sick as they would have with previous variants, a very large number of people are in fact getting sick. They’re not able to attend work, they have a large number of contacts.”
Dr Kami Kandola, the territory’s chief public health officer, stressed that hospitalization figures tend to lag behind case numbers and said, if case counts continue to grow, she expects hospital admissions to do the same.
Dr Kandola added that while many patients have so far reported few symptoms, Omicron still presents a particular risk of severe outcomes for people who are not fully vaccinated, have high-risk medical conditions, or are older.
Non-essential health services have been cut back in places like Yellowknife as the NWT’s health authority shifts to prioritize its response to Omicron. Even before that, the territory was suffering a significant shortage of healthcare workers only exacerbated by the need of some to now miss work while infected or isolating.
Meanwhile, a limited supply of rapid testing kits will see the territory prioritize kits for school-aged children, children attending daycares and day homes, travellers, and essential workers at high risk of exposure.
Kandola said the public health orders now in place – which further restrict gatherings and suspend some activities until at least the latter half of January – are aimed at slowing the spread so critical systems and infrastructure are not overwhelmed.
“This is a slowdown, not a lockdown approach,” she said. “We need to slow down the rate of transmission but we’re not locking down to stop the spread entirely.
“We need to shift our thinking to living with Covid-19 because of the nature of the Omicron variant.”
Pegg said: “What needs to happen in order to handle the Omicron rate is there need to be less cases.
“There is an element of [personal] responsibility because the healthcare system actually cannot be prepared for thousands and thousands of cases.
“The healthcare system can’t stop this. The people who live in the Northwest Territories have to be the ones that stop this.”