2 new cases of COVID-19 in N.W.T., one person from small community hospitalized

These new cases are the third and fourth overall, and include the first outside Yellowknife and Inuvik. One of the individuals had a pre-existing condition, and was hospitalized at Stanton Territorial Hospital, say officials.

Both cases related to travel; territory has 4 cases overall

The N.W.T. identified two new cases of COVID-19 Thursday evening. (NIAID-RML via The Associated Press)

Two new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the N.W.T., and one of the people had returned to his or her small community and was later hospitalized in Yellowknife, according to health authorities.

"These cases were confirmed in quick succession this evening," said a statement Thursday from the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer.

"Once the [office] ensured patients were notified and facts were collected, work immediately began to advise the public," the statement says.

The cases are the third and fourth overall, and include the first outside Yellowknife and Inuvik.

Health authorities have previously said they will not identify smaller communities when cases of COVID-19 appear, citing patient privacy. 

Person had pre-existing condition

The first case involves an individual who returned from travel elsewhere in Canada on March 22. That person continued on to an unidentified small community, according to the release, despite mandatory travel restrictions put in place on March 20 requiring travellers to self-isolate in Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Hay River, or Inuvik — communities the government calls "designated isolation centres."

On Friday morning, Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory's chief public health officer, said during a CBC's The Trailbreaker call-in show that the individual developed symptoms four days after arriving on March 26. The person was tested for COVID-19 in a car. 

It's time for all of us to take this serious.- Premier Caroline Cochrane

The individual had a pre-existing condition and was hospitalized at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife, said Kandola. The patient is still symptomatic, she said.

Kandola added she believes there's no scenario where the individual encountered other people.

"The latest information I received is that person is stable," said Kandola. "There's been no evidence there's been a breach of transmission where the community would have been exposed."

Overcrowded housing and a lack of health services make smaller communities more vulnerable to community spread, according to health authorities.

Violating travel restrictions carries a maximum penalty of up to $10,000 and imprisonment for six months.

"The manner by which they were able to return to a small community and not a designated isolation centre is being investigated," the release from Thursday states. "Investigation of contacts is ongoing, but is expected to be minimal."

2nd case connected to Europe

The other new case is connected with an individual who travelled from Europe to Yellowknife on March 20 and voluntarily self-isolated in an unspecified location.

The individual developed symptoms five days later, the release said, and was tested soon after.

"The individual is doing well and recovering at home. There is no indication hospitalization will be required," the news release states.

The office believes this individual's contacts were also minimal.

Premier says there's a fine balance

On Friday morning, Premier Caroline Cochrane told CBC that she was disheartened by the two new cases .

"There's a fine balance between protection of people's privacy, and the public safety of residents," said Cochrane. "All of us need to do this. It's here. It's time for all of us to take this serious."

Cochrane stressed for everyone to follow the advice and orders of the chief public health officer.

N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane and Dr. Kami Kandola, the chief public health officer of the Northwest Territories, took calls from the public on CBC's The Trailbreaker Friday morning. Read the Q&A here.

With files from Garrett Hinchey and Loren McGinnis