N.W.T. expands criteria for COVID-19 testing to include 'general feeling of unease'

With the territory's testing rate dropping, health authorities in the N.W.T. expanded the criteria for receiving a COVID-19 to include mild symptoms.

Recent onset of mild symptoms enough to qualify for test under new rules

Health authorities in the N.W.T. expanded the criteria for receiving a COVID-19 test Friday to include patients experiencing mild symptoms. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Patients experiencing mild cold- or flu-like symptoms are now eligible for COVID-19 testing in the Northwest Territories.

Health authorities released an expanded list of criteria on Friday for receiving a test for COVID-19. In addition to the typical COVID-19 symptoms of a fever, cough or shortness of breath, that list now includes "a general feeling of unease, or being 'under the weather.'"

Patients can also present with any of the following symptoms and be considered eligible for a test:

  • Muscle aches.
  • Fatigue.
  • Sore throat.
  • Runny nose.
  • Headache.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Loss of smell.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms is asked to call the territory's COVID-19 information line at 811 and arrange a time to receive a test. The line is only operational from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Friday. An online assessment tool is also available.

"As we continue to learn about this new virus we need to reassess and adjust our approach, which includes who we test," the release from the territorial government reads.

"We want more people to get tested so that we can better understand this virus," reads a quote attributed to Health Minister Diane Thom. "By getting tested, you're playing an important role in containing this virus."

Fewer people getting tested for COVID-19

The territory already has the highest per-capita rate of testing in the country, though it is performing fewer new tests each day, as fewer people present with respiratory illnesses.

Health officials had already expanded criteria to include atypical symptoms, such as vomiting or loss of smell, but previously required patients to be experiencing more than one symptom at a time.

Before the criteria became expanded, the territory's medical director, Dr. Sarah Cook, said the testing strategy in the N.W.T. was already "extremely aggressive."

The territory has conducted more than 1,600 tests to date and confirmed only five cases of COVID-19 — all related to travel, and all since recovered. The last confirmed case was more than two weeks ago, on April 5.

But officials say the wait to receive test results from southern labs — as long as four days in the N.W.T. — makes it impossible for health officials to closely monitor any possible community spread.

The territory is hoping to roll out same-day testing kits in regional hubs in the next several weeks.


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