North

N.W.T. reports first case of COVID-19 'without known source'

N.W.T.'s Chief Public Health Officer said the rapid response team is being deployed to find the source and added there is no reason to be frightened. 'We know what works to stop transmission, and public health is working hard to find the source.'

Territory's COVID-19 rapid response team is being deployed to find the source, says CPHO

The Northwest Territories reported its first case of COVID-19 'with no known source and no travel history.' (NIAID Integrated Research Facility/Reuters)

N.W.T. public health officials are reporting the territory's first case of COVID-19 with no known source.

In a news release Friday afternoon, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola said the positive COVID-19 diagnosis was made in Yellowknife "with no known source and no travel history."

"At this point, we don't have the full information," she said in an interview on CBC Radio's Trail's End Friday. "We're ... working to see all the people that could've been exposed."

The release said the individual sought testing when they developed symptoms and has since isolated and is doing well.

A COVID-19 rapid response team is being deployed to find the source of the infection, she said.

"The team will complete what is called reverse contact-tracing, which includes reviewing potential exposures in the 14 days before symptoms started. Public health will recommend targeted testing of further individuals to attempt to find the source," she said.

Kandola added that without knowing the source of the infection, she can't make a definitive determination if there's a risk to the public.

"But there is no reason to be frightened — we know what works to stop transmission, and public health is working hard to find the source," she said.

Kandola said health officials expected an update on any possible places of exposure would be published "likely over the weekend."

In her interview Friday, Kandola would not say the case was an instance of community spread.

"When we get all the information, we can then make the decision" on what to call it, she said.

A definition on the N.W.T. government's COVID-19 questions and answers website defines community spread as "people in that community are getting sick with COVID-19 without travelling or being close to someone who has travelled."

According to definitions published by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, community spread is when people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected.

Kandola, right, urged eligible residents to sign up to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in light of the latest case. She received her first dose on Jan. 13 in the community of Wekweeti. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Public health orders not changing — yet

Kandola said there was not yet a need for organizers to cancel weekend events approved by health authorities.

"What people should be doing is making sure people are physically distancing, making sure there are means for people to wash their hands … screen people at the door and make sure that … people are wearing their masks," she said.

"When you have these kind of measures, it really does limit spread."

She said new restrictions would not be coming until more was known about the case. The territory's Emerging Wisely plan states that a case of community spread could put the territory back under stricter rules and force the closure of some business and government services.

"Right now, we just have to look at the extent of exposure, [and] see if we can identify our source," she said.

Instead, Kandola urged members of the public to observe long-standing public health orders advising physical distancing, frequent hand washing, and the wearing of masks in public places.

She stressed that residents should keep social networks small, to five people outside their household, and allow no more than 10 people in their home.

Those over 60 should sign up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, which is being distributed in Yellowknife this coming week.

"It's a good time to sign up for vaccination," she said.

In reaction to the news, the Town of Fort Smith issued a statement on Facebook that it is closing its recreational facilities, including the arena, library and recreation centre, until at least Monday, when it will re-assess.

Wastewater monitoring ongoing

Waste water testing for signals of COVID-19 have been an early warning beacon for health authorities in some communities.

But with the case announced Friday, there was no community notification based on waste water testing.

That's because there was already an active case of COVID-19 in Yellowknife, and the test isn't accurate enough to distinguish one case from two.

Kandola said health officials will continue to monitor the signal to see if a wider outbreak could be underway.

"If the signal increases or gets more intense, then we know something else is happening," she said.

She stressed that there was no need to panic as health officials search for more information.

"I don't think it's something that people need to be terribly frightened [about]," she said. "[They] just have to monitor the situation and wait for updates."

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