North

Runny nose? Cough? You too can get a COVID-19 test in the N.W.T.

The Northwest Territories is developing new criteria for who is eligible for COVID-19 testing in the territory, so people with milder symptoms can be tested.

New guidelines expected in the next few days to allow patients with mild symptoms to be tested

A health-care worker collects a sample at a drive-through COVID-19 testing facility in Alberta. The Northwest Territories will soon open up its testing protocols so people with mild symptoms can get tested. (Alberta Health Services)

The Northwest Territories is developing new criteria for who is eligible for COVID-19 testing in the territory, so people with milder symptoms can be tested. 

Health officials are working on the new clinical protocols now and are expected to release them in the coming days, said Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory's chief public health officer, during her weekly media briefing Wednesday. 

Up until this point, testing has generally been restricted to those at a high-risk of contracting COVID-19: either those returning to the territory or those with symptoms such as a cough, fever or shortness of breath. 

As of April 15, there have been:

  • 1,464 completed COVID-19 tests. 

  • 5 positive tests. 

  • 1,459 negative tests. 

  • 47 pending tests. 

But the number of tests happening each week has been decreasing. Last week, between April 8 and 13, there were 130 tests, compared with 269 from April 1 to 7, and 410 between March 23 and 31, according to a CBC News analysis of public health data. 

That drop can be attributed to fewer people entering the territory as the travel ban continues, and the natural winding-down of cold and flu season, leading to fewer people showing symptoms of what could be COVID-19, Kandola explained. 

Mild symptoms enough to receive test 

The new protocols will recommend testing for people with symptoms such as a sore throat, headache or runny nose —anything that could be connected to COVID-19, Kandola said. 

"We're opening up who we test to ensure we test as many people as possible," she said. 

Dr. Sarah Cook, the N.W.T.'s medical director, encouraged anyone with a suspicion they may have contracted COVID-19 to come for a test, saying there should not be any stigma attached to that. 

Cook warns community spread is likely, and could be a greater threat as people become tired of physical distancing. 

Community transmission is the spread of illness from person to person without knowing where contact with the virus was made. As of April 15, all 5 of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Northwest Territories have been isolated cases related to travel. 

We're opening up who we test to ensure we test as many people as possible.- Dr. Kami Kandola, N.W.T. chief public health officer 

The coming of two new rapid-testing systems should help more people get tested. Those are expected to arrive within the next three to five weeks, Cook explained.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, health officials are increasingly warning against allowing the virus to spread within communities. As part of that, Kandola has called for aggressive actions, most recently banning all indoor gatherings. 

"We want to increase our testing of our communities," Kandola said. "The only way we can really know for sure that we don't have community spread is to increase testing to people who have not travelled or who we typically don't test." 

Kandola said increased testing would lead to better data for her to make further public health decisions, and would factor into how she decides to lift restrictions as time goes on. 

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the territory released another batch of statistics on its enforcement division. So far, there have been 255 complaints about public health breaches, an increase of 75 from what was reported last week. 

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