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How non-resident mine workers are monitored for COVID-19 in N.W.T.— and other questions from you

During a live call-in show on The Trailbreaker Thursday morning, Dr. Kami Kandola answered the public's questions about mine workers, out-of-territory health-care workers, and daycares.

Territory's top doctor and medical director took people's question live in a call-in show Thursday

Dr. Kami Kandola is the chief public health officer of the N.W.T. On April 10, she issued a specific public health order 'directed at mineral and petroleum industry.' Kandola took questions from the public on a live call-in show on CBC North's Trailbreaker Thursday. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

The Northwest Territories chief public health officer says mine workers from outside the territory, who are exempt from the border closure, have to follow a separate legally binding order that is meant to help avoid the spread of COVID-19.

On March 21, Dr. Kami Kandola put into effect a public health order that restricted travel and closed the border to non-residents with some exceptions. 

Flight crews, construction crews working on essential infrastructure projects, workers supporting essential services like health care, import/export workers like truck drivers, and people working at the mines are exempt from that March 21 order. 

But during a live call-in show on The Trailbreaker Thursday morning, Kandola said the mine sites are "highly regulated" with their own order to follow. 

Kandola and Dr. Sarah Cook, the territorial medical director for the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority, took people's questions via phone, email and Facebook.

The order "directed for mineral and petroleum industry" was issued last week on April 10, and outlines not only what all mine workers must do while they're on site, but also before they come to work if they live outside the Northwest Territories. 

What happens before workers come to the N.W.T.?

Kandola said for the two weeks prior to coming to work in the territory, non-resident workers must self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 as well as ensure they're staying at least two metres away from everyone to follow physical distancing protocols. 

Before they even board the plane to come to the Northwest Territories, they must complete a workplace risk assessment. Then, they have to check their temperature as well as ensure they don't have any symptoms of COVID-19

If a worker does show any COVID-19 symptoms, the Northwest Territories order says they can't travel to the territory. 

What about when they're on shift?

Once a worker is in the territory, they must complete a health screening before every shift, which includes checking for COVID-19 symptoms. 

If someone does show symptoms while on site, officials have to contact the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer, as well as make sure the worker self-isolates in an area of the workplace that has already been identified. 

A file photo of Gahcho Kue mine. The Northwest Territories chief public health officer says mine workers from outside the territory, which are exempt from the border closure, have to follow a separate legally binding order. (Garrett Hinchey/CBC)

The mine site itself not only has to ensure the location for possible self-isolation cases has been designated, but it also has to make sure all high-traffic areas are disinfected on a regular basis and that the amount of people working is "no more than the minimum number." 

According to the order, mine site officials must also display signs to make sure workers are aware of restricted areas as well as physical distancing and disinfecting protocols. They also have to stop all buffet-style meals.

How are out-of-territory health-care workers being monitored?

Kandola says she's working on a specific public health order for essential workers, like locum health-care workers — those that travel to and from the territory to supplement the workforce that lives here. 

Cook said the locum workers include nurses, surgeons and general practitioners and typically spend anywhere from a few days to two weeks in the Northwest Territories. Like all other essential workers, they are advised to self-isolate when not at work and to always self-monitor for symptoms.

WATCH: Health officials answer the public's questions about COVID-19 on Thursday

She said they also have to wear a mask during the first 14 days they're in the N.W.T.

Cook said officials don't want to stop locum health-care workers from coming into the territory, but they are trying to limit how frequently they're moving in and out of the N.W.T. 

Cook says some locum workers have signed up to work "for several months at a time" in the territory — much longer than usual — which should help limit province-to-territory movement.

Why are daycares and day homes still open?

Kandola said all daycares and in-home babysitting services are exempt from the public health order she issued on April 10 about social gatherings and business closures.

She said one of the main reasons for this is to ensure essential workers like health-care providers can still have care for their children while they continue to go to work during the pandemic.

She also said that according to data from across Canada, only one per cent of community spread of the coronavirus has come from schools and daycares.  

As for camps that serve as childcare for some in the summer, Kandola said it's too soon to know if those will be allowed. She said it will depend on if the illness has been contained in the territory at that time.

As of Thursday, there are five confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the territory, with two considered recovered. 

The last reported case was on April 5. 

Is there a cure for COVID-19?

Cook said while people all over the world trying to create a vaccine for COVID-19, there isn't a cure.

She said even a vaccine is "still quite a ways off."

"A vaccine is for protection against future infection of a virus, but there isn't a cure for coronavirus at this point," Cook said. "There are lots of different medications that are being studied, but at this point there isn't anything that's been approved or that has strong evidence."

She said that's why it's still crucially important that people keep their physical distance. 

"Because if we don't move, the virus can't move," she said.

Kandola said lifting any restrictions in the territory would also be dependent on what's happening in the rest of Canada.

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