Community spread declared 'imminent' as N.W.T. COVID-19 cases rise rapidly

Community spread is either underway or imminent in Aklavik, Behchokǫ̀, Fort Providence, Hay River, Whatì, Yellowknife, Ndilǫ and Dettah, Dr. Kami Kandola said late Thursday.

OCPHO recommends remote learning, work from home for several communities

COVID-19 cases surged in the N.W.T. Thursday as health officials had predicted. The Omicron, which is the dominant strain in the territory, is much more contagious than previous variants. (Lightspring/Shutterstock)

The N.W.T.'s Office of the Chief Public Officer advised Thursday evening that "several communities ... are either currently experiencing or showing evidence of  imminent community transmission" of COVID-19. 

Those communities are: Aklavik, Behchokǫ̀, Fort  Providence, Hay River, Whatì, Yellowknife, Ndilǫ and Dettah. More communities are expected to be added to this list in the coming days.

A single-day record number of COVID-19 cases were reported in the N.W.T. Thursday but hospitalizations and ICU admissions remained unchanged, according to government statistics.

The N.W.T. government reported 150 more cases in the territory Thursday than there were on Wednesday, with a total active case count of 546.

By late evening, the chief public health officer said the number of new cases identified in the past 24 hours had risen to 170. 

In the communities where imminent community transmission has been identified, the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer recommends that:

  • Large employers allow employees to work from home;
  • Schools pivot to remote learning;
  • Internal non-essential travel within the N.W.T. in and out of the affected communities be avoided, and;
  • Those travelling into the N.W.T. stay at home for 72 hours and monitor for symptoms.

Health officials had predicted a surge in cases as the Omicron variant, which is more contagious than other variants, became the dominant strain. All of the new cases are assumed to be Omicron.

In a call-in show on CBC Radio's Trailbreaker Thursday morning, Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory's chief public health officer, said there are likely many more cases in the territory than are being reported. She said a better understanding over the situation overall would result from focussing on "severe outcome data," such as hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths.

Sixty-two people have been hospitalized in the N.W.T. since the pandemic began, with 94 per cent of those related to the Delta variant. Most of the 20 ICU admissions and all 12 deaths so far are related to Delta, Kandola said.

Kandola said the tightened gathering restrictions she put in place Tuesday are to help limit the spread of the Omicron variant. 

Public exposure notices

The territory also issued public exposure notices for four locations in Yellowknife and for one flight.

The notice affects all passengers on Air Tindi flight 8T 223 from Yellowknife to Fort Simpson on Jan. 3.

The notice says all unvaccinated passengers must isolate in place, not travel, and get a COVID-19 test on day eight or if symptoms develop.

The notice added that all fully vaccinated passengers on the flight need to self-monitor for 10 days and get tested on day 4 or if symptoms develop.