N.W.T. now requires testing, or assessment, for any sick child returning to school

Children with a single COVID-19 symptom will need to arrange for COVID-19 testing or a visit with a health care provider before returning to school, health officials announced Friday.

Officials also announce expanded vaccine clinics for youth in communities outside Yellowknife

N.W.T's Chief Public Health Officer Kami Kandola has unveiled new rules requiring more children to receive COVID-19 tests before returning to school after illness. (Mario De Ciccio/CBC)

Health officials in the N.W.T. have unveiled new rules for sick children who want to return to in-class learning that require children with even minor COVID-19 symptoms to undergo testing, or be assessed by a health care provider, before returning to school. 

The rules appear to require children with one COVID-19 symptom to isolate — even from other family members — and for parents or guardians to arrange for a COVID-19 test. 

The rules also extend to staff members at the territory's schools. They require anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to isolate and follow up with health providers "if necessary."

"If they have symptoms that are more suggestive of COVID-19, they should arrange an appointment with their health care provider," reads a release detailing the change sent Friday. "If they have other symptoms which might represent COVID-19, they should arrange for a COVID-19 test."

A chart accompanying the release suggests that a single "green symptom", such as a runny nose or a headache, means the parent should isolate their child and arrange for COVID-19 testing.

"The child with symptoms should try to keep a distance from others in the home and limit use to only one bathroom in the home if possible," it reads.

A chart showing symptoms that will prevent a child from attending school. If a child is experiencing one green symptom, they must isolate from other members of the household and arrange for testing. Two green symptoms or a yellow symptom mean the child must see a practitioner, who could rule testing unnecessary. (John Last/CBC)

Confusingly, a child with two or more green symptoms or one yellow symptom — a fever, new or worsening cough or loss of taste or smell — is only asked to isolate and arrange for an assessment by practitioners at a health centre.

According to the release, health care providers will then determine whether symptoms warrant a COVID-19 test or are reflective of an underlying condition or another cause.

They will then provide the child with an "assessment card," the release says, that will be used to screen returning students at their school.

"This assessment card will not include any private health information and will consider the child's individual situation," the release reads.

The health authority has set up a new booking option for parents who need to book a COVID-19 test before their child can return to school.

"Keeping children with coughs and colds home from school remains important," reads the release. "If a child has a cold or other illness, being at school could spread this illness to other students."

New vaccine clinics for youth

Also on Friday, officials announced expanded vaccine clinics for youth in the territory.

Youth aged 12-17 will be able to get the jab in Hay River, Inuvik and Fort Smith now that the territory has received an additional shipment of Pfizer vaccines, which were approved for the age group May 5.

A release from officials Friday says the dates for the vaccine clinics are still "being finalized," but will be published to the territory's vaccine information page soon. 

"If residents are unable to access the vaccine in this round, there will be future opportunities for Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine clinics outside the hub communities," the release says.The Moderna vaccine is still available to all adults in the territory, it notes. 

Nearly 60 per cent of eligible people in the N.W.T. have received both doses of COVID-19 vaccine.