North

Rapid COVID-19 testing in N.W.T. still a work in progress, top doctor says

The Northwest Territories' chief public health officer says her office has started a "working group" with regional health authorities this month to figure out how to bring rapid testing to the territory to diagnose COVID-19. 

'Working group' created to figure out how to bring rapid testing to territory

Dr. Kami Kandola, chief public health officer for the N.W.T., says a group of health officials is now looking at how to bring rapid testing to the territory. (Walter Strong/CBC)

The Northwest Territories' chief public health officer says her office started a "working group" with regional health authorities this month to figure out how to bring more rapid testing to the territory to diagnose COVID-19. 

That's despite hopes in April that within weeks, the quick-turnaround tests would make a big difference to the territory's testing times.

"There's a will to, and a need to, have rapid testing," said Dr. Kami Kandola at a briefing to media Wednesday. "It's been a top priority.

"Once we have all the details we will be letting everyone know."

The Northwest Territories' goal to bring quick COVID-19 diagnoses to the North has faced significant hurdles. 

We're pulling together to explore every new avenue possible on an expedited basis.- Mike Westwick, N.W.T. government

In May, Dr. Sarah Cook, the territory's medical director of health, said one testing system the territory was using — called GeneXpert — had to be reserved for high-priority situations because of a low supply of cartridges on the national market.

A spokesperson for the territorial government confirmed that model is still being used for those specific cases.

That same month, the other type of testing unit territorial health officials had planned to use — the mobile, field-friendly Spartan Cube — was recalled because of reliability problems with its swab

Kandola said on Wednesday that the working group started its work within the past two weeks. It is now analyzing where to get supplies, where rapid tests should be delivered, and how to keep workers safe.  

Mike Westwick, in charge of COVID-19 communications with the territorial government, said the government has already procured some test supplies but is still trying to get more.

Another testing platform, called BioFire, should be up and running by September, he said. 

"However, even with additional supplies we have procured over these months, there remains a challenge on the rapid testing front," he wrote in an email. "Which is why we're pulling together to explore every new avenue possible on an expedited basis to prepare us to rapidly identify and respond to cases come fall." 

3 people charged after breaking self-isolation rules

During the teleconference Wednesday, Kandola also said her office has charged three more Northwest Territories residents in the North Slave region for breaking self-isolation rules.

"We are troubled by this continuing trend," said Kandola. "COVID-19 takes advantage of simple mistakes.

"We are seeing some of these mistakes in our community."

Conrad Baetz, the head of enforcement for the COVID-19 protocols, declined to give details on how the people had broken their isolation.

"They weren't following the specific protocols that they're required to follow when they're self-isolating," he said. "It's that plain and simple."

Baetz said within the past two weeks, his office has had four or five failures to self-isolate that have had to be addressed.

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