All recent travellers to Yellowknife asked to get tested after COVID-19 signaled in wastewater

The government of Northwest Territories says the wastewater COVID-19 surveillance program has signaled undetected cases of COVID-19 in Yellowknife.

Anyone who was self-isolating in Yellowknife from Nov. 30 until the present should get a COVID-19 test

COVID-19 has been detected in wastewater samples in Yellowknife, the territory said on Wednesday. The risk to the public is not yet known. (3D4MEDICAL)

The government of Northwest Territories says the wastewater COVID-19 surveillance program has signaled undetected cases of COVID-19 in Yellowknife. 

It says wastewater samples analyzed in Yellowknife from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4 signaled the cases.

The territory says people who have recently travelled into the N.W.T. are most at risk. 

Anyone who was self-isolating in Yellowknife from Nov. 30 until the present should get a COVID-19 test, says Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola.

"This means if, between November 30 and now, you were in Yellowknife at any stage of your self-isolation because of traveling into N.W.T., you should get tested now even if you don't have symptoms," she said in the release.

In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Kandola said that though the Nov. 30 to Dec. 4 period presents the "highest risk point," it's important that anyone who arrived in the territory between Nov. 30 and the present go for a test.

COVID-19 could be circulating in community

"There's no need for alarm. This is what we've been preparing for since the pandemic began," she said.

Still, said Kandola, "what we don't know is the extent or nature of transmission" of the virus in Yellowknife. 

She said the sample could be from someone in isolation or who stopped in Yellowknife en route to somewhere else, "but it also could mean COVID is circulating in our community."

The territory says essential services workers who were in Yellowknife between Nov. 30 and now, who received exemptions to work should also be tested.

However, the recommendation to get tested doesn't apply to high-risk essential service workers who don't have symptoms and who were already tested as part of their permission to work (such as health care workers). These workers should continue to follow the "routine advice" from their employer or permission to work letter.

What we don't know is the extent or nature of transmission"​​​​​​.- Dr. Kami Kandola, N.W.T. chief public health officer

People self-isolating because someone else in the household has travelled outside the territory should continue self-isolating and do not need to get tested unless they develop symptoms.

Anyone in the home who develops any COVID-19 symptoms should contact their local public health unit and arrange for testing, the release says. People with symptoms will be given priority for testing.

Otherwise, it says public health guidance in Yellowknife and N.W.T. remains the same. That includes following isolation guidance as required, wearing a non-medical mask in public spaces and staying home if you're sick.

Kandola stressed on Wednesday that people wear masks in indoor public places, especially given the high number of travellers and workers entering the territory over the holiday season.

New testing centre in Yellowknife isolation centre

In response to the wastewater results, the territory has set up an additional testing site in the Yellowknife isolation centre at the Chateau Nova Hotel. That testing site is only for people who are isolating there.

Testing hours are being extended until 8 p.m. at both sites. The government is urging people to book their test online.

Kandola said she expects "hundreds" of people are being contacted about getting tested. 

She urged people not to be nervous or embarrassed about going in for a test, saying, "coming forward is the best thing you can do to help your community right now." 

The government says there were close to 300 COVID-19 tests done in Yellowknife from Nov. 30 through Wednesday and all were negative.

Even after a negative result, anyone who travelled and is tested must still isolate for 14 days.

No new restrictions were announced on Wednesday. Kandola said that could change if there is community transmission, depending on the government's ability to contain and track the virus.

Kandola also addressed the case of the worker in Yellowknife who was announced as positive on Nov. 27.

She said a known case would produce a weak signal and that as the case recuperates, the signal would get weaker.

From Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 however, the signal got stronger and a repeat sample produced a signal of the same intensity, which suggests there's at least one case unaccounted for in Yellowknife, said Kandola. 

Risk to public unknown

The wastewater sampling program was announced in September and collects samples from Hay River, Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Inuvik and Fort Simpson and test it for COVID-19.

In a previous news release, the territory said testing wastewater has been found to uncover trends of COVID-19 in the community four to 10 days earlier than clinical data would by detecting its presence in asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic populations.

N.W.T's Chief Public Health Officer Kami Kandola is urging residents to wear a mask in indoor public places. (Mario De Ciccio/CBC)

In the Wednesday release, the government says there is not enough information to confidently assess public risk.

"It is possible that this signal is from one or more individuals who have travelled and who are now appropriately self-isolating, or have even left the territory. But it is also possible that COVID-19 has been transmitted to others," the release says.

The government says it's asking for the public's assistance in identifying any cases so it can contain the situation quickly, and prevent ongoing transmission.

The government also says the results from recent COVID-19 diagnostic testing, and additional wastewater surveillance analysis expected in the next few days will allow officials to "better characterize" the risk to the public in Yellowknife, and throughout the territory.

How to get tested

Those needing testing can book an appointment online at this link for the COVID Clinic at the Yellowknife Primary Care Clinic. It says there will be appointments available for those who are recommended to be tested. People can also call Yellowknife public health at 867-767-9120 or their local health centre if home.

People should tell their health centre at the time of testing whether they've recently travelled or were self-isolating between Nov. 30 and Dec. 9.

Those getting tested in Yellowknife should come to the front door of Yellowknife Primary Care Clinic and go to Pod B to the left toward the COVID Clinic.

People being tested in another community should follow local instructions on how to safely get tested at the site. There will likely be high call volumes, the release warns.

If it isn't possible to get through over the phone, people are asked to leave their name and phone number on the voicemail. Residents are reminded to stay isolated, and wait for public health to call back and to not go to a health centre in person unless an appointment is made. If you do not hear back in 24 hours, it says to try calling back.

Confidentiality will be kept, territory says 

If a person receives a positive COVID-19 test, public health officials will work with that person to "confidentially investigate any people you saw recently who may be at risk, and any locations where there may have been an exposure risk."

"Your information will be kept confidential and public health officials will follow-up on your well-being regularly throughout your isolation period to help keep you safe," the release says.

Since Nov. 24 , the territory was reporting zero active cases of the virus and has had a total of 15 cases since the start of the pandemic. In an interview with Dr. AnneMarie Pegg, N.W.T.'s medical director, last week on CBC's The Trailbreaker, Pegg said whether the territory was doing enough testing was difficult to answer since an indicator is usually based on the positivity rate of the virus. 

Kandola said there would be more information about vaccines coming on Friday.


  • An earlier version of this story said the surveillance program detected COVID-19 in wastewater. In fact, the program signaled undetected cases of COVID-19.
    Dec 10, 2020 12:53 PM CT


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