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From the Fort Simpson investigation, to a vaccine update: N.W.T. doctors answer COVID-19 questions

N.W.T. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola and the territory's medical director Dr. Sarah Cook joined CBC's The Trailbreaker to take your latest questions on COVID-19.

N.W.T.'s chief public health officer and territorial medical director heard from listeners on The Trailbreaker

An environmental health officer enforcing COVID-19-related rules earlier this year. The Northwest Territories' chief public health officer says an investigation is underway into a possible pandemic-related public health violation in Fort Simpson. (Katie Toth/CBC)

The Northwest Territories' chief public health officer says an investigation is underway into a possible pandemic-related public health violation in Fort Simpson.

"We are aware of an incident in Fort Simpson where there has been unauthorized entry through misrepresentation of purposes," said Dr. Kami Kandola during a live call-in show Thursday morning on CBC's The Trailbreaker.

"I just want to be clear: we did not authorize this activity," she said.

Her comments came in response to a question from a caller from Fort Simpson who raised concerns about people from out-of-territory recently attending a funeral in the community without quarantining.

Kandola says her office is collecting evidence and will take appropriate action as the investigation concludes.

So far, eight people in the territory have been fined for violating public health orders.

Kandola, who was joined on the show by the territorial medical director, Dr. Sarah Cook, said there are still no active cases of COVID-19 in the N.W.T.

Here are some more of your questions:

Will we move back a phase if a COVID-19 case arrives? 

"Not necessarily," Kandola said.

Despite restrictions, she says there's more than 1,000 people coming over the border every week.

"We anticipate COVID-19 cases coming in as early as August or definitely increasing when we get to the fall," she said.

Kandola said the plan is to identify those cases early, isolate them and follow up with contact-tracing.

She said if there is a breakdown in compliance or if the territory finds cases that are not linked to travel, and it's contained to one community, it doesn't mean the whole territory will go back a phase.

N.W.T. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola, left, and the territory's medical director Dr. Sarah Cook joined CBC's The Trailbreaker to take your questions on the pandemic. (CBC)

Will the borders only open with a vaccine?

"If the number of cases start going down significantly across Canada, if we don't anticipate a second wave, if we have the means of rapid testing, and if tourists are willing to do the 14 days of self-isolation, I'm open to all those possibilities before waiting for the vaccine," Kandola said.

But with cases rising across Canada, including in neighboring Alberta, she says residents have to continue being vigilant.

"We need to keep the travel restrictions in place. We know that we will anticipate even more cases come fall, when more people go indoors," she said.

How close are we to a vaccine?

"Unfortunately, a vaccine is still quite a ways away," said Dr. Cook.

She said they might have a better sense of a timeline by the end of this calendar year.

"People always want to ask this question and they want the process to speed up but it's really going as fast as people can safely do it," Cook said.

Hopes for a treatment

This week, Health Canada authorized, with conditions, the drug remdesivir for patients with severe COVID-19.

Cook says there's still a lot of information that we need to know about whether it's actually going to be an effective treatment, and whether it would be appropriate to use in the territory.

"We know if people are severely ill with COVID-[19], they may actually need to have care in Edmonton anyway," Cook said.

"So one of the questions we'll be looking at in the coming weeks and months, as we get more information about remdesivir is, is this actually appropriate for us to use in the Northwest Territories or is it the kind of thing that's more appropriate to use in a higher level facility."

Missed the call-in show? Watch it here: 

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