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Possible COVID-19 exposure in Yellowknife as 3 presumptive new cases identified in N.W.T.

Three people have received presumptive positive COVID-19 test results in the Northwest Territories, and health officials are warning of two places in Yellowknife that carry risk of potential exposure.

Anytime Fitness and Yellowknife RCMP detachment named as possible sites of exposure

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Andy Delli-Pizzi waits to speak at a press conference Friday following news that three presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 had been identified in the N.W.T. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Three people have received presumptive positive COVID-19 test results in the Northwest Territories, and health officials are warning of potential exposure to the disease in Yellowknife.

One person is from Inuvik while the other two are from Yellowknife, according to a news release issued Friday morning from N.W.T.'s office of the chief public health officer.

The cases between jurisdictions are unrelated, the release says. However the cases in Yellowknife are connected — one person travelled from within Canada, arriving by air, and subsequently transmitted it to a household member. The release says the tests came late Thursday night and an investigation is underway.

"There are some contacts that we're reaching out to to provide the advice they need," said Dr. Andy Delli-Pizzi, the territory's deputy chief public health officer, at a news conference Friday.

"I want to ensure residents across our territory, that today we are safe," he said.

"By moving quickly, we can minimize the risk of an outbreak."

Delli-Pizzi said he knows many are wondering whether this will mean a change to public health orders or a transition back to an earlier phase of the territory's reopening plan. But he said at this time, the situation is manageable and there's no need to alter the government's overall approach.

Yellowknife's Anytime Fitness was identified as one location of possible exposure. (Michael Hugall/CBC)

Exposure risk

During the briefing, Delli-Pizzi said there are two places with risk of exposure from one of the Yellowknife cases.

Anyone who was at Anytime Fitness in Yellowknife on Oct. 12 between 3 and 4:30 p.m. as well as anyone who was in the RCMP Yellowknife Detachment public waiting area on Oct. 13 between 11 and 11:30 a.m. must self-isolate at home for the next 14 days, and monitor for symptoms closely.

As well, people who were in those risk areas must contact the Yellowknife Public Health Unit at 867-767-9120 to get additional advice.

People you live with must also self-isolate for 14 days if you cannot safely self-isolate at home away from them, the release says.

"If you develop any of the following symptoms, no matter how mild, we are asking you contact the Yellowknife Public Health Unit to be assessed," the release states.

Symptoms include fever, new or worsening cough, shortness of breath, malaise (generally feeling unwell) and muscle aches. Other symptoms could include fatigue, sore throat, runny nose, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of sense of smell or taste and loss of appetite.

The territory says it's opening the Yellowknife drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinic from 12 to 4 p.m. this weekend to respond to additional testing demand.

On Facebook, Anytime Fitness in Yellowknife shared the advisory with a short statement.

"We want to extend our well wishes to the infected individuals in the N.W.T during this time, we wish them a speedy recovery," it reads.

The gym currently requires clients to pre-book visits using an app.

"Anyone who was in the gym during that time is being contacted today by our team and given instructions on what to do next," the post reads.

"Public Health has confirmed that it is safe to remain open at this time as we do have proper social distancing measures in place."

Delli-Pizzi said the territory is being "extra precautionary." He added the risk of exposure at the gym is "not very high, but it's also not negligible." 

"Typically there's no need to shut down a facility based on this," he said.

The RCMP also released a statement Friday evening saying services would continue uninterrupted.

"Front counter staff limit the number of persons admitted to the entrance area, and have preventative measures available including masks and hand sanitizer," the release reads.

Liquor stores in Yellowknife introduced mask policies in light of the news. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

Low risk from Inuvik case

As for the Inuvik case, the release sent Friday morning says a person started their travel in Alberta, travelled to Inuvik by road and arrived on Oct. 10. The person immediately isolated upon arrival and in accordance with the travel restrictions and self-isolation protocols, it states. The person is still isolating at home and "doing well."

An initial assessment shows there were no potential contacts, though the investigation continues. Risk of further transmission is considered to be very low. The release says there are no concerns for exposure along the person's travel route.

There is believed to be no risk of exposure in any other N.W.T. communities.  

The three cases are considered presumptive since there have not yet been enough positive tests completed on the analyzers to be able to declare a case confirmed immediately yet, according to Delli-Pizzi.

Follow-up tests will be done by the territory's partner public health laboratory in Edmonton. The territory hopes to have the results by Saturday.

As of Thursday, the government was reporting a total of 5,736 tests done in the territory with 22 pending. There have been five confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the territory, and all of those people recovered months ago.

N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane, right, speaks at a press conference Friday, Oct. 16 following news that three new presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 had been identified in the territory. Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green watches on. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Premier: 'Second wave' is here

"The second wave that was anticipated by health officials across Canada in the early days of the pandemic is here," said Premier Caroline Cochrane during the Friday press conference.

"Southern Canada is seeing record levels of cases and it was inevitable that we would eventually see new cases in the Northwest Territories.

"The measures we put in place at the beginning of the pandemic are only going to be effective if everyone does their part. It's critical for residents and communities to remain as diligent as possible more than ever before."

Cochrane spoke alongside Health Minister Julie Green, who urged residents to remain vigilant in their efforts to follow public health orders. 

"It's important to remember we won't be risk free until there are widely available treatments or vaccines," she said.

Green added that all three cases were recovering with close monitoring from health authorities.

Missed the press conference? Watch it in full below:

Liquor stores, some businesses make masks mandatory

The Inuvik, Hay River, and Yellowknife liquor stores have all introduced mandatory mask policies in light of the news. In downtown Yellowknife, customers without masks were turned away. 

A manager at the store confirmed the sign went up Friday following the news of the presumptive cases.

Three Inuvik businesses owned by the same family as the liquor store also introduced a mask policy. Home Hardware Building Centre, Just Raven' Fabrics and More and Arctic Rim Powersports announced on Facebook that masks are now required. They also asked that no children be brought in.

The Nihtat Gwich'in Council has cancelled all of its scheduled programming after lunch on Friday.

This includes programs at the youth centre and the Inuvik Native Band. They said they will post again once they figure out how to deliver programming in a safe and effective manner.

The Hay River Liquor Retailer posted a sign on its entrance requiring people wear masks before entering the store. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

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